Role Reversal in Government Shutdown-Debt Limit Showdown
For weeks, Democrats have said they would not give in to Republican “extortion” on funding the government. Now, they’re trying to extort Republicans on the same issue.
Mark Sappenfield, CSM (“Government shutdown backfires? GOP says Democrats now guilty of extortion“):
For the past few weeks, Democrats from the president on down decried Republican tactics on a potential government shutdown as political hostage-taking on a par with “extortion.” So, of course, now that the Republicans are on the run, the Democrats are doing the exact same thing in reverse.
They’re saying they want to undo major part of the sequester budget cuts as part of a deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt limit. It’s as though Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has finally sensed his moment to destroy that product of tea party Republicanism once and for all. One might not even be surprised if “Ride of the Valkyries” was booming from his Senate office this morning.
That is how dramatically the story in Washington has flipped during the two weeks since the government shutdown.
On Oct. 1, the Republicans were on the offensive – or at least thought they were. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas was at the front of the column, and the cry coming from his ranks was that they would stop at nothing to gut President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care Act.
A government shutdown? A hit to the credit rating of the United States if Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling? Either was preferable to a new government entitlement that they said would erode American liberties and drive the country further into a potentially fatal debt crisis.
Inevitably, they failed, because they had nowhere near the numbers in Congress to win, and – despite their rhetoric – only a minority of Americans wanted to repeal Obamacare. Americans had already decided that question in the 2012 elections, and Republicans’ failure to accept that rebuke meant they would receive it again this month. The Democrats, who knew all this, had not the slightest intention of yielding.
But now, members of the Republican establishment have abandoned their tea party insurgents for a more moderate position: They’ve offered to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling – both only temporarily – so that Congress can discuss reforming Social Security and Medicare.
Democrats, surely would wish for more. A temporary reprieve still holds a hint of “extortion” and still keeps Washington bumping from one fiscal crisis to the next. But, these days, such is the stuff of which compromises are made.
But Senator Reid is having none of it. He knows that polls show most Americans blaming Republicans for the current gridlock. And he knows that the Republican establishment absolutely, positively does not want the government to default on its debt. The tea party, with its grass-roots outrage, might be willing to stay firm on its debt-limit resolve, but establishment Republicans are much more likely to listen to Wall Street, and a failure to raise the debt limit could mean global financial chaos. Not good for 401(k)s.
So Reid is trying his hand at the “extortion” game. The Republicans can only save themselves if they get out of this mess, and he’s the only Democrat in Congress who has the power to let that happen. So far, he’s letting them dangle.
He now wants the Republicans to roll back parts of the sequester budget cuts agreed to during the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis. The sequester, however, happens to be the only tangible success of Congress’s tea party era. Asking the Republicans to go back on the sequester cuts would be like asking the Democrats to go back on, say … Obamacare.
John Terbush, The Week (“The shutdown endgame: Democrats turn the tables on the GOP“):
With the deadline to raise the nation’s debt ceiling three days away, Democrats are giving House Republicans a taste of their own medicine.
Whereas Republicans had until now been the ones making demands in exchange for funding the government and averting a debt default, Democrats, seeing their opponents on the ropes, are now probing to see if they can get something for themselves.
In terms of specifics, the debate centers on how long the automatic spending cuts mandated by the sequester should last, and how far into the future the debt ceiling should be raised. Republicans want the cuts to last as long as possible with a short-term hike in the debt ceiling, while Democrats essentially want the opposite.
Yet the underlying issue is how much of a legislative price Democrats can, or should, try to extract now that Republicans have essentially conceded defeat in the broader shutdown fight.
With her party’s poll number sliding to historical lows, Maine Sen. Susan Collins (R) on Friday offered a compromise: A two-year delay of a tax on medical devices, a six-month funding bill at sequestration levels, and a two-month debt limit increase. Democrats balked, and Collins softened the proposal to extend sequestration-level funding only to January 15. Democrats shot that down on sight as well, instead pushing for a longer punt on the debt ceiling and an earlier chance to negotiate spending.
The plan could also reportedly include a delay of the medical device tax in exchange for unspecified GOP concessions, possibly the closure of tax loopholes. And in setting the next debt ceiling fight smack in the middle of the 2014 midterm elections, Democrats think they would have the high ground to force Republicans, wary of how poorly this round of high-stakes bargaining went for them, to cave again then, too.
“If they want to recommit political suicide a few months before an election, that’s going to be their choice,” a Democratic aide told The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent. ”We’re going to make sure that if this happens it has real consequences for them.”
Republicans, unsurprisingly, aren’t too pleased with the role reversal.
“What am I getting?” Collins told the New York Times. “I’m serious. I’ve bent over backward.”
But Democrats think they have all the leverage in the fight.
This would be ironic if it weren’t so dangerous. If moderate Republicans can forge a deal with the Democratic leadership, let’s get it done without further drawing the ire of the Tea Party extremists who seem happy to court the crisis.