Hooray! The United States isn’t going to default on its debt just yet. The government isn’t going to shut down. Partisan zealots aren’t going to trade representative government for civil war, mob rule, anarchy or balkanization. So, two cheers for democracy as E.M. Forster said. But, as Otto von Bismarck said, you’d better have a strong stomach to watch either sausage or laws being made.
The grand bargain that was totally impossible to achieve one day and easily arranged the next is a case in point. Far from being a triumph of the rational middle over the wingnuts or a vindication of compromise as opposed to manning the barricades, it is really a temporary, stopgap, an expedient, a fraud.
Republicans still want to dismantle the New Deal, eliminating Medicare, Medicaid and dozens of other programs that help people who don’t vote Republican. They want to turn Social Security over to the predators of the financial services industry. They want to shrink the federal budget, yet want to spend more on defense. They want to craft a tax system that comforts the comfortable and afflicts the afflicted, and a regulatory apparatus that ignores gun sales, white collar crime, pollution of the environment and of the food chain, but imposes restrictions on abortions and marriage.
But in order to get their wish list, they need to retain power in the both houses of Congress and elect a Republican president a year from now. Cooler heads in the party realized that playing chicken with the national debt, downgrading its bond rating, shutting down the government, and demonstrating an inability to govern would not only be bad for the business of their donors but might further tarnish a brand already in single digits in popularity polls.
Don’t listen to me about that. A chorus of economists and Wall Street titans who care more about money than politics say that repeatedly playing dice with the debt ceiling and shutting down government services has cost the country 1.5% in annual economic growth and earned it a debt rating downgrade. Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics says these shenanigans over the last five years have had the effect of “raising borrowing costs, constraining business investment and depressing consumer spending.”
They also made Republicans look like bomb throwers rather than folks out to help the average guy who suffers the consequences of all these economic ills. Shutting down the government reminds people that they or their moms actually rely on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits, student loans and a host of other programs, that the government isn’t the enemy depicted on talk radio.
So in order to get the power to gut government programs that people like and need, Republicans decided they’d have to let those programs live long enough to let them win another election. So they made a deal to give President Obama what he wanted – increased spending on programs for the poor and middle class – while getting the increase in defense they wanted.
Of course the Tea Party Freedom Caucus in the House regards anything other than full-speed-ahead efforts to eliminate almost all government as betrayal. It is their delusion that such a programs would usher in a capitalist utopia of yeomen farmers and “Little House on the Prairie” rather than hasten the ongoing return to the brutal days of the gilded age, when haves exploited have-nots with no interference from government. They believe most Americans share their desire to live without a safety net.
They did in outgoing Speaker Boehner, for the crime of being insufficiently extreme, a Republican in Name Only. He got his revenge by passing this compromise with the help of Democratic votes. His stated motive was to give his incoming successor, Paul Ryan, a clean slate (or barn) so he wouldn’t immediately have to either preside helplessly over the next Freedom Caucus insurrection or deal with Democrats and get branded a RINO. But Boehner was also trying obviously trying to help the party look sane enough to win votes next November.
Will it work? Maybe, though presidential candidates Rand Paul and Ted Cruz were quick to take to the Senate floor for mini-filibusters denouncing any compromise or any delay in hastening the end of government services for those who need them. Cruz called his party’s Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, who shepherded the compromise through the Senate a turncoat, no better than a Democrat for daring to keep government open and honoring its debts.
In short, comity, conciliation, compromise and regular order were mere tactics intended to let the Republican Party appear palatable enough to win a victory next year. That may be cynical, but it isn’t as stupid as some of the party’s candidates who have no interest in disguising their motives. They’d rather go down flags flying than let anyone suppose they want to let the enemy – the government of the United States — live another day. Voters have been warned.