Governing is Not Win-Lose

Compromise is simply necessary for the country to function.

Budget-Deal

The New York Times treats the recent budget compromise as a political game. It uses the headline “Obama Wins on Budget Deal as John Boehner Cleans Out the Barn” for search optimization while using the tamer “No Grand Bargain, but Deal Is Still a Victory for Obama” on the page itself.

The budget agreement struck late Monday between the White House and Congress hands President Obama a clear victory, vindicating his hard line this year against spending limits that he argued were a drag on the economy and buying him freedom for the final 14 months of his term from the fiscal dysfunction that has plagued his presidency.

The deal is the policy equivalent of keeping the lights on — hardly the stuff of a bold fiscal legacy. But it achieves the main objective of his 2016 budget: to break free of the spending shackles he agreed to when he signed the Budget Control Act of 2011, an outcome, the president allowed Tuesday, that he could be “pretty happy” about.

Washington Examiner columnist Phillip Klein goes further, proclaiming, “This budget deal is what GOP surrender looks like.”

During the era of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, it’s become popular in conservative circles to blast Republican leadership for surrendering.

These charges, in my view, were often not fair. I argued that the debt ceiling had to be raised, government had to be funded, and that it would have been impossible to extend all of the Bush tax cuts following President Obama’s re-election. As much as I’ve opposed Obamacare, I disagreed tactically with Obamacare opponents who believed it would be possible to stop the program without control of the White House through a “defunding” push. In other words, I’m not one to use the term “surrender” loosely.

But now that I’ve had a chance to dig through the details of the budget deal Boehner announced Tuesday morning, I’m comfortable saying: This is what Republican surrender looks like.

Klein is a rational conservative who routinely pushes back at the nonsense of the Tea Party and the Trump-Carson wing of the GOP. What about the deal strikes him as a “surrender”?

Republican leaders have agreed to unravel progress they made in hard fought budget battles to pump more money into government in the short-term in exchange for modest reforms, many of which can and likely will be easily undone by future Congresses. After spending much of their time in the minority in 2009 and 2010 poking holes in Obama’s budget gimmickry, they have dug deep into a Mary Poppins-like bag of gimmicks and thrown them all into this deal.

The deal, in addition to suspending the debt limit until March 2017, will increase spending in a number of ways. It will undo the limits on discretionary spending put in place by the 2011 budget deal, representing an increase in $80 billion over the next two fiscal years, split between defense and non-defense spending.

To help pay for this, they’re theoretically extending the time that sequestration will be in place for two additional years, from 2023 to 2025. On paper, the idea is that spending cuts in 2024 and 2025 will help make up for the increased spending in the next two years. But this is a fantasy.

It’s worth keeping in mind that they used this trick before. In the 2013 Ryan-Murray budget deal, Republicans and Democrats agreed to breach the caps and make up some of the shortfall by extending the sequestration period from 2021 to 2023. In other words, if this deal goes through, Congress will have twice avoided enforcing a deal that many of the same key players negotiated and voted for in 2011. And yet, we’re supposed to believe that a decade from now, a new president and a drastically different Congress that had nothing to do with current negotiations will feel bound by the limits being placed on them by this current deal. It’s pure fantasy.

The fantasy is the notion that the out party can get everything it wants. Congress can’t bind itself through mere legislation, so it’s a true fact that any long-term deals are meaningless. But recall that the Budget Control Act was intentionally designed as a game of chicken, with sequestration being a poison pill that would be so unpleasant to both sides as to force compromise. Instead, Congressional Republicans–and in particular the so-called Freedom Caucus—decided that they could live with draconian and stupidly applied cuts to the Defense budget in exchange for draconian and stupidly applied cuts to domestic programs.

The Republican-controlled Congress got around that this year by skirting the Defense cuts through the use of overseas contingency operations (“OCO”) funding for routine programmatic costs. President Obama had threatened to veto any attempt to do this and followed through. Republicans don’t have anywhere near the votes to override the veto.

To complicate matters further, we’re about to hit the absurd “debt ceiling,” wherein Congress has made it against the law to borrow money to pay for spending it has already authorized unless it separately allows itself to borrow more money. So, there were actually two major impasses to solve.

The budget deal solves them both, by issuing a longish-term increase to the borrowing limit while agreeing to skirt the sequestration limit for two years. That keeps the country running and kicks the can down the road for the next president and next Congress to deal with. It’s the sort of compromise that simply has to happen for the country to function under our system of separation of powers.

Beyond that, while the insane goals of the far right of the party weren’t achieved, the GOP got most of what it wanted here. Most notably, it got the defense spending and reforms that it had passed, but through the front door of raised authorizations vice the back door of OCO.  Additionally, it got some very sensible reforms to Medicare and Social Security that were needed to keep those programs solvent but politically painful for Democrats. Here, too, both parties got some of what they wanted and had to accept some of what they didn’t. But, again, that’s governing.

 

FILED UNDER: US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Cheryl Rofer says:

    Sadly, there are a group of people in the Congress and in a particular segment of the media, with followers in the general public, who believe that destroying the country’s financial standing and ability to provide its citizens with the functions of government is the win that they are fighting for. (“drown it in the bathtub”) So engineering a deal that avoids that is a win for those who engineered it and all the country, including those who have been deluded by the scammers in Congress and the media.

    It’s time to end the rhetoric about smaller government and start acting like responsible citizens. That would include a willingness to pay the necessary taxes to fix our broken infrastructure and schools, along with shutting down the scammers by pointing out that they are damaging the country.

  2. C. Clavin says:

    So it begs the question….why do you continue to support s party of radicals who refuse to compromise?

  3. gVOR08 says:

    Keeping the lights on and patching potholes is the responsibility of the majority party in Congress, not the President. The establishment GOPs have prevented the fringe of their party from putting on a big time demonstration of stupid during the run up to the presidential election. And all it cost them was doing their job. Sounds to me like a big win for them over their own fringe. (In this case the fringe seems to be about half their party.)

    And it’s only a holding action ’til after the election. Pray pantsuits have coattails and Dems can retake the Senate.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    I mean, seriously…where was this post 6 years ago? This is not a new phenomenon. Republicans have been doing everything they can to damage the country since they lost the White House in the midst of a 9% contraction of GDP. Where the fwck have you been, James?

  5. C. Clavin says:

    Well, I suppose it’s good you finally woke the fwck up.
    Welcome to the world of consciousness.

  6. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: Back before the Republicans let David Frum back on the bus I would occasionally comment on Frum Forum that Frum’s stance as a reasonable Republican was a marketing decision. The niche for reality based liberal journalism is pretty crowded, but the niche for reasonable Republican journalism is wide open.

  7. C. Clavin says:

    I wonder what other obvious realizations James will come to next?
    Republican economic ideas are complete bunk?
    That the Republican position on climate change is a hoax driven by the fossil fuel industry?
    That pro-life is actually anti-choice and is contrary to any ideas about small government?
    That more guns won’t ever lessen gun violence?
    That the free-market requires rigorous Government regulation?
    That religious freedom is not the freedom to discriminate?
    That dinosaurs didn’t ever walk the earth with man?
    At least he has plenty of nonsense to chose from…should he choose to open his eyes just a little wider…..

  8. Moosebreath says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    “Sadly, there are a group of people in the Congress and in a particular segment of the media, with followers in the general public, who believe that destroying the country’s financial standing and ability to provide its citizens with the functions of government is the win that they are fighting for. ”

    Or to put it another way, keeping the government functioning is viewed by the Freedom Caucus as something which the Democrats and the Establishment Republicans care about, and they do not. Therefore, permitting the government to function is enough for them to give up that they should get what they want in exchange.

    The Democrats have held firm in not giving in to this blackmail. The Republican Establishment has time and time again given in to their radical rump, including shutting the government down in 2013 rather than give in and in pushing Boehner out of the Speakership. So which party is showing the character needed to govern, James?

  9. stonetools says:

    Sadly, there are a group of people in the Congress and in a particular segment of the media, with followers in the general public, who believe that destroying the country’s financial standing and ability to provide its citizens with the functions of government is the win that they are fighting for. (“drown it in the bathtub”)

    That group of people is now approximately coterminous with the Republican Party. Dunno any solution about this apart from the California solution-voting them all out. California used to have budgetary problems constantly, leading to its reputation as being chaotic,ungovernable, etc( “land of fruits and nuts”). After California voted its Republican Party into insignificance, all of sudden the budgetary chaos stories went away. The California Republicans are still as nutty as the rest (Kevin McCarthy is a Republican) but they can’t actually do anything, California is being governed responsibly and well, and California has once again returned to its role as the vanguard of governance in the US.

  10. MarkedMan says:

    You gotta think about the cynicism of the Hastert rule. On the surface, it seems pretty reasonable. The house leadership won’t bring a bill to the floor unless 50% plus 1 of the Republicans would vote for it. In theory, I have no argument: Republicans were given control of the house and therefore they legitimately set the agenda.

    But that’s not how it works. For a couple of decades now, Republicans have realized that the vocal base will not allow them to vote for essential bills. If they do, they get primaried out of the party. So, knowing the Democrats are the more responsible and adult party, they will allow a vote to go forward and let it pass with Democratic votes. But now the Hastert rule causes a train wreck. Republicans left in office that would have the courage to vote for what’s right are, by and large, either retiring or brand new. And the brand new ones who vote for actual governance won’t be re-elected. So while there are probably 70% of Republicans who aren’t crazy or too stupid to understand whats going on, there isn’t anywhere near 50%+1 votes to bring the necessary legislation to the floor.

    Bottom line, the Republicans quite literally depend on the Democrats to run the country. But the Hastert rule makes it harder.

  11. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The problem is here is not that the Republican Party is bonkers nor even that sensible people like James still support them. The problem is why do the American people still vote for the Republican Party in such numbers?
    This seems to be a messaging problem by liberals. Now to begin with we won’t be able to insult them into agreeing with us (You might want to take note of this, CC. Just sayin’).
    It seems that we liberals are just terrible at communicating and advocating for our ideas with the America people and at pointing that the problems with government dysfunction are being caused by Republicans. Jonathon Chait commented on the problem, with respect to Obamacare:

    n his remarks at the White House today hailing the Supreme Court’s denial of a right-wing nuisance lawsuit designed to cripple his health-care law, President Obama mused over why the public did not overwhelmingly approve of it. After all, the law is not only working as intended, but in some of the most crucial metrics — premium levels, federal budget costs — it is working considerably better than projected. Yet public approval has remained mediocre. The president settled on the fact that there are people benefiting from the law and they don’t even know it. There’s no card that says Obamacare.

    But there is another possible explanation. The law’s critics have consistently presented a much louder and more certain attack, and its supporters a more cautious and muted defense, and this has remained the case even though, on virtually every point, the critics have been wrong and the supporters right.

    In short, the critics of Obamacare-and right wing media in general- have been more successful with the American public because they have been loud, repetitive and wrong, whereas liberals have been quiet, careful and right. I think as well that the right’s mythologizing about America has just been better and more attractive than has the liberals’.Heck, the right now virtually owns the label “America” in a way liberals don’t.
    Circling back to the original point, the Republicans have gotten to the place they have because they have convinced the public that their anti-government ideology is right and that the public needs to send people to Congress to cut down “Big Gubmint”-except of course for the part the public likes.It’s an impossible agenda that inevitably creates dysfunction-but it is a popular one and liberals have yet to find a way to discredit it.

  12. James Joyner says:

    @C. Clavin: I don’t know what blog you’ve been reading all this time. The necessity for pragmatic compromise in our system has been a cornerstone argument here since the earliest days.

    It’s difficult to search for nebulous concepts but, for example, this 2008 posting titled “”Who Destroyed the Republican Party?” makes that argument. Ditto 2005’s “A Judicious Compromise.”

  13. C. Clavin says:

    @James Joyner:

    The necessity for pragmatic compromise in our system has been a cornerstone argument here since the earliest days

    I do not think that word…cornerstone…means what you think it means.
    Certainly if it did you wouldn’t be forced to scan back 7 or 10 years to find examples.
    Your support for the party doing the damage is pretty clear.
    Congrats on clearing your eyes, if just a bit. The longest journey starts with one blog-post.

  14. C. Clavin says:

    Seriously…if pragmatic compromise in our system was a cornerstone argument of OTB we’d be seeing posts like the one above weekly at least.
    Like I said…this is not a new phenomenon with the party you prefer.

  15. stonetools says:

    @James Joyner:

    e. The necessity for pragmatic compromise in our system has been a cornerstone argument here since the earliest days.

    The problem here, James, is that the Republicans have been winning with a message of : “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.” Now the man who popularized that message didn’t really believe that, but his followers do. And the way you deal with a problem is to solve it by eliminating the problem, not by pragmatic compromise.
    You are not going to convince people who have been sent to Congress to eliminate the government that the they should compromise and keep the government functioning smoothly. That doesn’t make sense to them and would frankly be a betrayal , not only of their principles but their constituents who, after all, voted for them based on their promise to cut “Big Gumint.”
    The followers of Reagan who have ridden this slogan to power simply need to be voted out and their message discredited. There is no other way.

  16. C. Clavin says:

    And FYI…the both sides do it nonsense is a cop out…not a cornerstone.

  17. @C. Clavin:

    I’m beginning to think that you’re only happy with posts that completely agree with your world view, but perhaps you missed this post from 2011, this one from 2013, this post from last year, or another one from last year

    Or pretty much anything that has been tagged “Tea Party.” .

    And that’s just what I found doing a quick search, I’m sure there’s more.

  18. DrDaveT says:

    @stonetools:

    Circling back to the original point, the Republicans have gotten to the place they have because they have convinced the public that their anti-government ideology is right and that the public needs to send people to Congress to cut down “Big Gubmint”

    One of the things I’ve been hoping for from the authors of this site — especially the ones with libertarian leanings — is a reasonably concise statement of what they think government is for, and how to tell what it should and shouldn’t be doing. As it is, I can’t tell whether we agree about goals but disagree about means, or whether we disagree completely about what the goals are.

  19. MarkedMan says:

    @C. Clavin: I must be reading a different blog then you are. You said:

    we’d be seeing posts like the one above weekly at least

    James has made extensive and frequent posts (or at least frequent in comparison to the total number of posts he makes) on the nonsense going on in the Republican party. And he has rarely, if ever, fallen into the both sides do it trap. In fact, in either the last presidential election or maybe even the one before, he had at least one post where he went into some public soul searching as to whether he could bring himself to pull that “R” lever again. The fact that he did, and that he remains loyal to this political party, or even to any political party, puzzles me. But it puzzles me because he is an honest, intelligent guy that generally takes a realistic look at the issues. If he was the partisan zealot you seem to imply, it wouldn’t be puzzling at all.

  20. gVOR08 says:

    @Doug Mataconis: @James Joyner: Listing various posts critical of GOPs or favoring compromise actually reinforces C.’s deeper question. Well, not all that much deeper, it’s pretty much right here @C. Clavin: Why are you two still Republicans? …OK, Libertarian, whatever. What part of C.’s list do you disagree with? I suspect you agree more than disagree. James, IIRC, has professed unhappiness w/ Obama on foreign policy, but grudgingly admits it’s better than the alternatives.

    You seem to grasp the problems in the Republican Party, but you won’t say you support Dems. It leaves a big apparent contradiction at the heart of this blog. (Which I would feel lost without and greatly appreciate your efforts.) Is it that you believe Jeb and Mitt and John B. and Mitch are a real moderate heart of the party and just say those crazy things without believing them? Or did Dems do something terrible?

  21. stonetools says:

    @DrDaveT:

    One of the things I’ve been hoping for from the authors of this site — especially the ones with libertarian leanings — is a reasonably concise statement of what they think government is for, and how to tell what it should and shouldn’t be doing.

    You better stop hoping, my brother, because you will never, ever, get a straight answer on that from any “libertarian”. You may as well ask a young earth creationist for positive evidence that the earth is 6000 years old.
    On of my favorite ways of needling Doug is to point out the contradiction between his love for NASA and his call for a “minimal” state. Here is the classic definition of the “minimal state”:

    A night-watchman state, or a minimal state, is variously defined by sources. In the strictest sense, it is a form of government in political philosophy where the state’s only legitimate function is the protection of individuals from assault, theft, breach of contract, and fraud, and the only legitimate governmental institutions are the military, police, and courts. In the broadest sense, it also includes various civil service and emergency-rescue departments (such as the fire departments), prisons, the executive, the judiciary, and the legislatures as legitimate government functions.[1][2][3]

    Advocacy of a night-watchman state is known as minarchism. Minarchists argue that the state has no right to use its monopoly on the use of force to interfere with free transactions between people, and see the state’s sole responsibility as ensuring that transactions between private individuals are free. As such, minarchists generally believe in a laissez-faire approach to the economy.]

    Now I am a supporter of NASA, but its clear to me that NASA goes beyond what a “minimal state ” should be doing , as defined above. Yet somehow Doug, like most libertarians, fits NASA into the night watchman state.
    Bottom line, for most libertarians or even conservatives, what government for is what they like.Everything else is outside what “limited government” should be doing , especially if it helps the poor and the unfortunate, i.e. people who aren’t like them .

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @Doug Mataconis:
    Again…you’re digging deep in the archives just to find your “both sides do it” nonsense.
    From your link:

    how the rise of strident ideologies on both sides of the left/right divide has poisoned the well of political discourse in the United States.

    Seriously, Doug…that pathetically craven approach only serves to enable Republicans and their “my way or the highway” brand of politics. Trickle-down economics, the Iraq war (they fooled you, eh?), death panels, climate change…there are so many things that would have never happened or been discussed seriously if not for the lazy journalism of “both sides do it”.
    Also…contra your claim…it’s usually just plain factually wrong. James’ post is about the budget. There is only one party that has stood in the way of numerous budget deals over the last 6 years. Again…I applaud James for recognizing the ill in his party and calling it out. It’s refreshing to hear truth…and it’s about time. Just sayin’

  23. stonetools says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that Doug and James like many people, just hold contradictory beliefs, and I’m OK with that. It’s infuriating that they enable a destructive Republican Party by voting for Republicans or by not voting for Democrats, but hey, that’s just how it is.

  24. Tillman says:

    The frequent questioning of our hosts’ political values is getting really annoying (and the frequent guilt by association that inevitably follows). There’s only so many times one can scream “WHY DON’T YOU AGREE WITH ME?!” and have it be entertaining.

  25. C. Clavin says:

    @Tillman:
    C’mon…it’s not about agreement…it’s about covering an issue truthfully and honestly.
    This post does that well.
    It’s rather unique.

  26. stonetools says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Think of Doug and James as prophets in the conservative wilderness. They believe in the conservative gospel, but think that the Republican Party has departed from the true path and fallen into extremist error. They don’t want to leave the One True Church of Republicanism , but to call it back to the pure vision as proclaimed by Saint Ronaldus Maximus (PBUH).
    These posts are a way of calling back errant Republicans back to the true path. To liberals, of course, these posts are an argument for leaving the Republican Party and going Democratic. But that’s not how followers of the conservative gospel see it.
    You should understand, C.Clavin, that there are plenty of Republicans/ conservatives who view what Doug and James are posting as heresy and that they are getting heat from those people. Try to understand, not condemn.

  27. C. Clavin says:

    @stonetools:

    They don’t want to leave the One True Church of Republicanism , but to call it back to the pure vision as proclaimed by Saint Ronaldus Maximus (PBUH).

    If only anything Republicans think about Reagan were true.

  28. gVOR08 says:

    @C. Clavin: Stone said “church”.

  29. grumpy realist says:

    @stonetools: Ah yes…minarchism. Another beautiful ideal that would rapidly be tromped into the mud if anyone tried it in reality.

    The problem with such idealism is that you’re not competing against other countries who hold the same ideals. You’re competing against other countries who realize that they can get a leg-up on you when it comes to the development of new military hardware and new technology, period, if they have their national projects and government skunk works and tax cuts and all the other ways in which we historically have jump-started technological development.

    Japan is a great example of this, by the way. When their bulk chemical companies were started to get pressured in the market by competition and undercutting by the Little Dragons, the Japanese government forcibly pushed Japanese companies out of bulk chemical production and higher up the value-added chain, into nutraceuticals/pharmaceuticals and food science and biotech. Which is one reason why Japanese are presently VERY heavy hitters in all of these areas.

    So if the libertarian-Republicans want to talk the US into minarchism, be my guest. Just don’t be surprised when countries who don’t practice it end up eating our lunch.

  30. Pinky says:

    James and Doug – The locals are, by and large, not interested in your opinions or the facts you use to support them, and they’re not interested in your analysis. They’re not seeking understanding, and they’re not seeking debate. They’re seeking reinforcement from members of their tribe. This site is a platform for them. You’re the audience member at an improve show, shouting out topics for them, but that’s your only purpose.

  31. george says:

    @Pinky:

    Actually going by the likes/dislikes, it seems the locals are siding with James and Doug over Clavin on this, and on some comments by a large margin (as in 18-2) – you may want to reconsider your analysis.

  32. george says:

    @C. Clavin:

    If only anything Republicans think about Reagan were true.

    They think he was the 40th President. And that seems to be true – your condition is met. Now what?

  33. al-Ameda says:

    @stonetools:

    California used to have budgetary problems constantly, leading to its reputation as being chaotic,ungovernable, etc( “land of fruits and nuts”). After California voted its Republican Party into insignificance, all of sudden the budgetary chaos stories went away. The California Republicans are still as nutty as the rest (Kevin McCarthy is a Republican) but they can’t actually do anything,

    Exactly right. Republicans are not interested in cooperative governance, they want to burn it down to get to where they want to be – Kansas is a good example of that. Governor Brownback blew up the state’s fiscal health in the service of conservative ‘back to zero’ ideology. The state’s economy is in poor health because of it.

    California used to be one of 3 or 4 states that had a super-majority vote requirement (2/3rds) to pass the annual state budget. The result was for that for over a decade the California state legislature, though dominated by Democrats, had the annual budget process held hostage by minority Republicans, and this created great instability for education funding and fiscal planning.

    Finally, in 2010, voters passed Proposition 25, which requiring a majority vote rather than a 2/3rds vote of the Legislature. Since then, budgets have been passed on a timely basis and Governor Brown has implemented budget practices that require funding stabilization reserves.