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.

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, 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. al-Ameda says:

    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.

    The Collins proposal would have ensured that we go through this Debt Limit bulls*** again in about 8 weeks. Gee, great ….. I suppose we’re lucky if Republicans agree to THAT.

  2. Rob in CT says:

    Coupla things:

    1) I love how once it’s the Dems using extortion, it’s a problem for some folks who were just fine with the GOP doing it (not you, James); and

    2) Various GOP politicians have been making it very clear that no deal can be reached unless the GOP “gets something.” The Dems may have decided to negotiate the way the GOP has been negotiating: make demands and then “compromise” by reducing those demands. The GOP “gets” to beat back the awful Democrat demands for increased spending. Win! 😉

  3. Rob in CT says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Meh. I looked into it some more and I’ll drop my #2 above. It seems the key issue is the Collins plan funds the gov’t a sequester levels for 6 months, resulting in 2014 cuts going in. The Dems were happier with a shorter government funding bill so they could get into conference and negotiate a better funding level. While I think that makes sense and support it, it’s a hard argument for the Dems to make.

    My other issue is that the Collins plan still involves paying some ransom. Sure, you can argue that the ransom is very small, but it’s still ransom. So the “use the debt ceiling as a weapon” thing remains. And they WILL use it again.

  4. Mark Ivey says:

    Reid can dangle em for a bit if he likes, he still remembers that Tea party rally in his desert hometown of Spotlight where the Tea elite swore they were gonna take out Harry Reid.

    I can understand my state Senator´s need for a taste of Nevada style political vengeance..

  5. Todd says:

    I’m sorry, but I thought that article was some serious false-equivalency bull$hit when I read it on CS Monitor site earlier, and I still think the same thing reading it here now.

    If the Republicans were actually offering a clean CR and Debt Ceiling hike, and Democrats then decided to try to slip in the non-sequester level spending as a “condition”, then maybe it might be somewhat close to the same thing.

    But as it is, the Republicans are not offering clean bills. There are clearly going to be some “sweeteners” in the deal to try to mollify Conservatives. Just as clearly, there are a number of ultra-conservatives who will not vote for ANY bill. So if we can agree that a number of Democratic votes will be necessary in the House (not to mention to pass the Senate bill in the first place), why shouldn’t they get something out of this deal?

    I think that’s the only way it’s even palatable to most Democrats … and even then just barely so.

    It’s a bit ridiculous that we just assume the Democrats are always going to be the “grown ups” in the room who will automatically do the right thing, even when it’s against their interests. While the Republicans need to have their temper tantrums rewarded, because that’s just how Republicans are, and we don’t want them to go into an even bigger meltdown. Just give them something to quiet them down, and hope they act nicer tomorrow.

  6. David M says:

    The GOP still doesn’t support a clean, short term CR and a long term debt ceiling increase. They are now pushing for a long term CR at their preferred spending levels and short term debt ceiling increase, and some other concessions from the Democrats, in return for nothing. A smaller ransom is still a ransom.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Ain’t gonna fly, James. This chewing gum is all over the Republican shoe and they aren’t going to get it off by yelling, “Wah, Democrats are meanies.” Look at that WaPo poll: even Republicans don’t like Republicans.

  8. David M says:

    A shorter CR and then going to conference to resolve spending level differences isn’t really much of a demand. It’s how the process is supposed to work.

    The fact that the GOP can’t get everything they want out of a normal negotiation isn’t newsworthy, any more than the fact that the Democrats can’t get everything they want out of the conference.

  9. anjin-san says:

    @ James

    Everything about this crisis – created by the GOP for strictly partisan reasons – is dangerous.

    Opening Pandora’s Box is a bad idea. It’s your party dude, own it.

  10. wr says:

    The TeaTards have to learn that there’s actually a cost to their hostage taking. Until now they’ve been able to get away with it, and they always walk away with the win on their side.

    Time for them to take a big hit so next time they aren’t so eager to destroy lives.

  11. john personna says:

    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.

    Cute wordplay, but obviously false. Here’s a better narrative:

    For weeks the Republicans whined about the Democrats’ refusal to negotiate. I warned you in these very pages that they they might not like “negotiation” because that entailed asking for more.

    You pay me, I pay you. (How hard is that concept anyway?)

    Now, when the Democrats break for negotiation, they back up with some demands.

    Duh.

    Otherwise they’d be taking their very fair compromise, the clear CR, as a starting point

    You should know that using the clean CR as a starting point is a non-starter.

    So why are you pretending it is remotely possible?

  12. john personna says:

    Or put another way, if you never made a foursquare call for the GOP to accept the clean CR, you have no standing now in this complaint.

  13. Steve V says:

    @john personna:

    Now, when the Democrats break for negotiation, they back up with some demands.

    Duh.

    Yup. They wanted to negotiate … well, this is a negotiation.

  14. Hal 10000 says:

    As predicted, everyone reverses their opinion when the shoe is on the other foot.

    @wr:

    The TeaTards have to learn that there’s actually a cost to their hostage taking. Until now they’ve been able to get away with it, and they always walk away with the win on their side.

    Thanks for illustrating the point. Who cares about the principals as long as we “get” the other side.

  15. wr says:

    @Hal 10000: Oh, yes. Both sides do it. Everyone is exactly the same. Possibly the easiest and most useless formulation in political debate today.

    Because in this case the principle is that a small minority unable to achieve its will through winning elections does not get to use blackmail and extortion to force huge political changes on the country. And that principle is not enforced if they are allowed to walk away with another win. All that does is guarantee another shutdown and another default threat.

    So no, I’m not reversing my opinion at all. Because my opinion has always been that any political party that attempts to subvert American democracy the way the wacko right of the Republicans are doing needs to be hit and hit hard.

    When a child is throwing a tantrum and demanding cookies, it’s not “reversing an opinion” to say that the parent should discipline the child and the child should not discipline the parent.

  16. Jeremy R says:

    James, the original clean CR, which the republicans could still pass by allowing a vote in the House, was 6 weeks. The problem with the Collins proposals is both all the unilateral concessions she’s tacked on, but also that she’s floated both a 1 year and 6 month CR. Dems are totally fine with a short CR at near Ryan-budget plus sequestration levels (for the sake of breaking the impasse). The thing is, unlike what the GOP claim, the Dems actually want to go to Conference Committee for a real budget. It would be a large concession to the GOP to lock in a year or even 6mos at a $ level the GOP could never attain through regular order, and it guarantees the Republicans would avoid budget conference for the duration. There’s no reverse extortion here, it’s simply that the Senate GOP is asking for a longer spending bill and they want it at their preferred budget numbers.

  17. David M says:

    @Hal 10000:

    As predicted, everyone reverses their opinion when the shoe is on the other foot.

    You’re going to have to be a little more specific about your objections, as the Democrats are not blocking either a clean short term CR or a clean bill raising the debt ceiling for a longer period of time.

  18. James Pearce says:

    @Steve V:

    They wanted to negotiate … well, this is a negotiation.

    Yep, although to be fair, it’s been pretty obvious for some time that Republican calls to “negotiate” have been made in bad faith.