Is It All Over But The Blame Game? Or, Why I’m Thinking We’re Hosed

I no longer have any confidence that our leaders will act responsibly before the August 2nd debt ceiling deadline.

In her post wrapping up last night’s Obama/Boehner speeches, Megan McArdle sounded a pessimistic, fatalistic note that I can’t really disagree with:

Both sides have given up making a deal, and are now just working on fixing the blame.  Boehner’s performance was uncharacteristically forceful, and even displayed a few flashes of personality, which was a nice change from his usual studied blandness.  But personal entertainment aside, this is not the moment when I really wanted to see John Boehner spontaneously generate a backbone.  He wasn’t trying to explain his position to a curious public; he was trying to justify the unjustifiable decision to risk the US credit rating rather than agree to a deal that Democrats could also live with.

Obama, meanwhile, seemed to be going out of his way to isolate Boehner from his more militant caucus members–praising Boehner’s willingness to cut a deal, if only it weren’t for the crazies on the far right.  Perhaps this makes Obama look like a nice guy to people who do’t understand the GOP intra-party dynamics, but of course, it poisons an already poisonous relationship between Boehner and the tea-partiers.  If I were feeling uncharitable, I might argue that Obama seems to be willing to lower the chances of getting a deal, as long as he raises the chances that the other guys get the blame.  And frankly, I’m not feeling very charitable right now.

But I’m not even sure what the point of blaming each other is; the public already seems to know who they’re going to blame, and mostly, it’s the GOP.  Desperate GOP spinning is probably not going to much change this (and yes, I know all the GOP arguments about why this is unfair, and even think that in some cases they’re right.  Doesn’t matter.  The PR battle is already lost.)  On the other side, twisting the knife just makes a deal less likely, for not much electoral gain.  And I can’t quite bring myself to believe that Obama is deliberately trying to foment a crisis because it will redound to his party’s electoral advantage.  Was it really worth pre-empting shows that people were willing to watch voluntarily?

These guys are out of ammunition.  They don’t even have any good arguments left to fire at each other.  Which I think means we’re hosed.

Throughout the six weeks or so that the debt ceiling debate, I’ve always believed that, in the end, we’d reach the point where the big boys (and girls) would get serious, make a deal that increases the debt ceiling while also cutting spending and, maybe, even increasing revenues by closing some tax loopholes. After all, it’s really the only rational thing to do under the circumstances. The consequences of failing to raise the debt ceiling, which has been covered here extensively, are simply too severe for any politician who cares about their country to risk. Moreover, neither party has complete control of the government, they’re not going to everything they want, and compromise on the details of legislation is as American as apple pie. Surely, I thought, we wouldn’t be sitting a week away from the August 2nd deadline without absolutely not realistic hope that the debt ceiling will be raised in time to avert economic uncertainty and, perhaps, a return to deep recession.

Boy, was I wrong.

I don’t need to reiterate the history of what we’ve seen unfold over the past six weeks or more. We’re all aware of it by now, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already done it more than once in one of my other debt ceiling posts. I’ll also admit that it’s mostly Republican stubbornness that has gotten us where we are, although, as I said earlier today, the President’s weak negotiating style has played into the GOP”s intransigence perfectly, and only encouraged them to become more intransigent. While I tend to agree with McArdle that if there is no deal and we’re faced with the unknown world of an America where the government no longer has enough money to pay it’s bills it will be the GOP who ends up taking the brunt of the blame, we will have gotten there in no small part because it doesn’t seem to be in the President’s nature to stand up to his opponents.

Again, though, that’s just part of the blame game.

At this point I see no real hope that a deal to raise the debt ceiling will be reached by August 2nd. There is no reason to believe that the hardliners in the House and Senate GOP caucuses, who are already rejecting the Boehner Plan as not good enough, are going to move off their dime. They’ve been tasting what they believe is victory after victory and the idea that they have to compromise now is likely the last thought in their mind. I do believe that John Boehner wants to get a deal done, but he is so obviously hamstrung by a caucus that has no real loyalty to him that he’s been forced to go out on a limb and take an all-or-nothing approach that makes the prospect of a last-minute compromise impossible. If the Boehner Plan is in doubt in the House, what makes anyone think that a compromise hybrid between that and the Reid Plan will do any better? It would only happen if the House Democrats essentially backed Boehner, in which case he’d be even more weakened as Speaker since he would have had to rely on the opposition to deliver a bill he supported.

Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps after all the voting is done on Thursday or Friday and there is no deal everyone will wise up, get to work, and we’ll have a vote Monday night that will avert catastrophe. It’s possible, I hope it happens, but after the events of the past four days, I’m going to be very surprised if it happens.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. EddieInCA says:

    Dear Doug –

    Welcome back!

    Signed,

    Reality

  2. I never left

  3. John Cole says:

    There are no serious people in the GOP. We’ve been trying to point this out to you for quite some time, but you ignore us or tell us to denounce Al Sharpton. The system isn’t broken- the GOP is. Hell, the Boehner plan is not good enough for the wingnut caucus- they are stumbling over each other rushing to cameras to denounce it.

    They’ve turned a trivial matter, raising the debt limit to pay for already spent money, into armageddon, and the entire time, you’ve been playing this both sides are to blame crap. Here’s how you know that is bullshit. If the Democrats pushed a clean debt limit bill, Obama promised to sign it, what do you think the Republicans would do in the House?

    And I’m not constantly harping at you because I want to be a dick, I’m harping at you because I read enough of you to know you are not a moron. For some reason, though, you refuse to admit that the Republicans are insane. The Democrats suck, there is no doubt about that, but the Republicans are fucking nuts.

  4. Gustopher says:

    See, this just gives me hope. If Megan McArdle thinks things will go badly, that increases the chances of things going well, because she is pretty much always wrong about everything.

  5. I still blame Americans. Americans put these idiots in charge based on the trumped up rhetoric of people like Rush Limbaugh and the idiots who work for Fox News. Americans are too stupid to learn more about the people they vote for, Americans hamstring themselves to a two party system, and Americans continue to see partisan hackery in everything they do or say (just watch the comments to this article as an example; the usual suspects will be pushing the GOP to take them to Valhalla).

    We are what we elect, and we’re electing shit.

  6. @Christopher Bowen:

    The last three national elections — 2006, 2008, and 2010 — have made me think that H.L. Mencken pretty much had it right in his evaluation of democracy.

  7. Ron Beasley says:

    @Gustopher: My thoughts exactly. As soon as Bill Kristol says there is no hope I will sleep better at night.

  8. ponce says:

    Oh dear, the Libertarian Eeyores are out in force.

    Buck up, it’s just democracy in action, kids.

  9. Liberty60 says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I used to sneer at liberal hipsters for their world-weary above-it-all “they all sux so I don’t vote” sophistication. Which usually came adorned with a H.L. Menken quote.

    Because it was really a form of moral cowardice, wanting to feign moral purity without actually having to do anything about it.

    Democracy is fine, it really is. At least when citizens truly love their country and want to do what is best for it.

    When a guy gets drunk and filled with rage and drives his car off a cliff, it doesn’t make much sense to shake our heads and wonder if a system of rack and pinion steering is to blame.

  10. mike says:

    maybe we need to really crash and burn for the politicians to grow up and put on their big boy pants and join the adult world. looks like it just may happen whether we like it or not.

  11. Hey Norm says:

    Gustopher pretty much nailed everything I was thinking.

  12. HankP says:

    Its quite simple, some people just want to watch the world burn. They don’t care what the results are, how much pain and suffering is caused, or what it means for the future. They want what they want because they want it.

  13. Fiona says:

    @Mike: You could be right. If we crash and burn, even the Tea Party idiots and the clowns on Faux News might be scared into acting like grown-ups. I’m not holding my breathe on that one though.

    Watching this whole farce play out has been disheartening. If Boehner didn’t have to placate the fanatics in his own party, people who are willing to bring the economy to its knees for the sake of ideological purity, we’d likely have a deal by now. The country is being held hostage by a group know-nothing morons who think we’re still living in the Gilded Age.

    I’m beginning to wonder if anything can save us.

  14. Ebenezer Arvigenius says:

    Democracy is fine, it really is. At least when citizens truly love their country and want to do what is best for it.

    The problem is that this doesn’t do anything. The world-weariness does not come from the fact that there are people out there who do not “love their country”. As far as this is even relevant these are few and easily dealt with.

    The problem is that the modern world is increasingly so complex that it is barely possible for even the more intelligent and better informed parts of the populace to understand the dynamics and the likely outcomes involved.

    Barring real understanding, most people fall back on classic stand-ins: analysis by trusted experts, common sense, personal symapthy (“he’s such a nice guy. He can be trusted with the decisions”) and, most of all, a consistent narrative.

    They all “love their country”. They just hold radically different ideas on what needs to be done.

    The problem is that even honest narratives (“government should be run like a business”) are – at best – of limited value since – like all models – they only apply to very limited circumstances. When they are used as a tool for understanding reality without being narrated with the main underlying assumptions (“this is meant to apply to management style and incentive setting only, not macroeconomics”) even those are dangerous.

    Even worse, the best narratives for winning elections are those that reduce complexity most and thus give a cosistent model for reality without all those pesky exceptions. And these are the ones that are positively poisonous since nothing that leaves out that much can be of any use for determining policy.

    What the US currently has is actually a very scary thing: it’s what happens if narratives are no longer used as tools (like those dastardly politicians normally do) but are actually believed in by the people called upon to make important decisions. Basically you get a bunch of seventeen year olds who have (once again) seen life as it really is and are out to enlighten the rest of us blind “sheeples”.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    What John Cole said.

    Been trying to tell you the GOP has lost its mind. They no longer care about the country. They are deeply, thoroughly fucked up.

    This isn’t both sides, it is one side. Just one. The GOP is going to singlehandedly destroy the economy.

  16. michael reynolds says:

    What John Cole said.

    Been trying to tell you the GOP has lost its mind. They no longer care about the country. They are deeply, thoroughly f—d up.

    This isn’t both sides, it is one side. Just one. The GOP is going to singlehandedly destroy the economy.

  17. mantis says:

    Hey, they could just go ahead and raise the debt ceiling. Crisis over. But destroying the economy is a better idea. You betcha.

  18. An Interested Party says:

    If I were feeling uncharitable, I might argue that Obama seems to be willing to lower the chances of getting a deal, as long as he raises the chances that the other guys get the blame. And frankly, I’m not feeling very charitable right now.

    The President did this by pointing out the truth? The fact of the matter is that Boehner probably was more than willing to cut a deal, if only for the Tea Party crowd in his caucus…

    But I’m not even sure what the point of blaming each other is; the public already seems to know who they’re going to blame, and mostly, it’s the GOP.

    Well, if the result of all of this is that the Tea Party crowd (who are largely responsible for this mess because of their ideological purity) loses power, that will be a good thing, as, perhaps, some sanity can return to Congress…

  19. Ron Beasley says:

    @mike: It really doesn’t matter what happens in the next week at some point we are going to crash and burn. And I don’t mean just the US – I mean the entire unsustainable world economy. We are reaching peak nearly everything which will make economic growth as we have known it impossible. A credit based economy requires economic growth to pay the interest. This is not just governments but business as well. And yes, Tom Friedman’s “flat earth” is going to get really round again. Economics will become more local and multinational corporations will become increasingly less important.
    The economy is about to undergo a major transition.

  20. john personna says:

    I agree with McArdle here:

    But I’m not even sure what the point of blaming each other is; the public already seems to know who they’re going to blame, and mostly, it’s the GOP. Desperate GOP spinning is probably not going to much change this (and yes, I know all the GOP arguments about why this is unfair, and even think that in some cases they’re right. Doesn’t matter. The PR battle is already lost.)

    … but you tried one more lick in that PR war, didn’t you Doug?

    It’s just a negotiation problem. That’s it. If Obama had just had a different presentation for his sanity, all the pledge signing nut-jobs would have rolled over.

    Got it.

  21. jukeboxgrad says:

    Surely, I thought, we wouldn’t be sitting a week away from the August 2nd deadline with absolutely no realistic hope that the debt ceiling will be raised in time to avert economic uncertainty and, perhaps, a return to deep recession. Boy, was I wrong.

    This is the prediction I made a week ago:

    I don’t think there will be a deal, because the tea party doesn’t want a deal. From their perspective, this is a unique opportunity to cut the federal budget by 40%, overnight. … And so what if this wrecks the economy? That’s not a bug, it’s a feature, because they figure Obama will be blamed. So if you want to predict what’s going to happen, you have to start with the premise that the tea party sees the absence of a deal as all upside and no downside for them. They don’t want a deal, period.

    I should have spent some money at Intrade. Since I said that, the odds have gone from 50% to 12.5%.

  22. mike says:

    @Ron Beasley: Ron – I don’t necessarily disagree with you. The answer is not to do nothing though. Incremental steps in my opinion are key though – some type of middle ground – as much as I hate paying taxes, and I feel like I pay my fair share being in the upper middle class, taxes need to go up and spending needs to go down period. Small cuts, small tax increases. Reign in defense spending, start drawing down the wars now. We can’t fix the world but we can certainly make some small changes at home. yelling at each other along party lines will surely do nothing.

  23. Barry says:

    First, as always, Megan is wrong. Obama has bent over backwards again and again; the right has simply escalated.

    And Doug, don’t try any ‘both sides do it’ lies here. It’s been clear for years, if not for decades, that the right is batsh*t insane *and* evil *and* stupid.

  24. I can see one way out of this mess, but it depends one finding 48 Republican representatives willing to permanently destroy their political careers to save the country:

    If 48 Republicans resigned enmass, it would temporarily give the Democrats a majority in the house, lasting until the replacements for those Representatives managed to get to DC.

    Enought time to pass a bill raising the debt ceiling.

  25. Racehorse says:

    There were two leaders who could have got this done:

    Harry S. Truman

    Lyndon B. Johnson – the best politician in the past 100 years

  26. Moosebreath says:

    Stormy,

    The other alternative, still involving Republicans sacrificing their careers, would require them to vote for an alternative which would get near unanimous Democratic support. Perhaps the Wall Street types who want this to be resolved can offer them a safe and cushy landing in exchange.

  27. john personna says:

    @Moosebreath:

    The other alternative, still involving Republicans sacrificing their careers, would require them to vote for an alternative which would get near unanimous Democratic support. Perhaps the Wall Street types who want this to be resolved can offer them a safe and cushy landing in exchange.

    At some point they should doubt that the Tea Party will be a player in their re-election.

    You want to get off before the bus crashes.

  28. Moosebreath says:

    JP,

    “At some point they should doubt that the Tea Party will be a player in their re-election.”

    Unfortunately, I doubt that point will be before November 2012. If I were a Republican running for re-election next year, I would not want to bet against the Tea Party unless I knew I had a soft landing prepared.