Is the (artificially crafted) shutdown crisis really over?
By David Brin
As we track events in Washington, so far, it seems that my prediction — which few others shared and that many called “blue sky” — appears to be unfolding almost precisely as it was laid out here… and here… and here.
Details develop though, so let me elaborate. After Senators Reid and McConnell finish their current dickering, both a Debt Limit Raise and a clean CR (government funding continuing resolution) will pass the Senate and will be sent to the House. (The sticking points at present include how long to make the extensions last; the GOP wants a long CR and a brief debt ceiling raise and the Dems want the opposite, for reasons that are hard to summarize here.)
Included will be sketched-outlines of a plan to recommence negotiations over a Grand Bargain on the budget that will include a replacement of the bludgeon Sequester slashes with deliberated alterations in entitlement programs to make them more efficient and adjusting them to longer life-spans. For the Democrats there must be provisions to also reduce deficits with some additional revenue to be derived from elimination of absurd, fat-cat tax subsidies (e.g. to rich oil companies.) These targeted tax-subsidies are as-yet unspecified, though it is clear what many of them should be, and those resisting their removal are blatantly corrupt persons… period.
Significantly, there will be no mention of Obamacare, at any level, way shape or form.
All right, Obamacare may be mentioned in some tiny way. There is talk of including an adjustment in qualification rule enforcement for the ACA, a tweak of an actual flawed-loose end that the dems had agreed to already. But it will allow the GOP to have a face-saving “victory” to crow about. Republicans will also attempt to put lipstick on this GOP disaster by claiming that their tactics “forced the Democrats to come to the bargaining table” on the budget, even though the House-Senate Budget Resolution Conference Committee (where these things have been resolved for 230 years) has invited the House side to meet on twenty occasions in the last ten months – that’s twenty – with the GOP refusing every time.
Specifically, one version of a possible deal was on the table a year ago. See the Simpson Bowles Plan that was wrought by genuine statesmen who (alas) were under the mistaken illusion we still lived in an era of common-sense negotiation. I do not know if the Senators who are now wrangling a deal will mention Simpson-Bowles, but any deal is likely to at least generally be based upon it.
Okay … and then what?
After the Senate acts, the locus of activity will move to the House of Representatives, where some of the adults in the room have started trying to lay the ground for an exit strategy from this wholly artificial and theatrical “crisis.”
On Monday, NPR’s Melissa Block spoke with Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma about the state of the Republican party as the government shutdown continues and the debt ceiling looms closer. Rep. Cole is deputy House whip, in charge of counting and cajoling votes from his fellow Republicans.
The interview is spectacularly revealing, in that Cole backpedals so hard I would worry about sonic booms. “Who me? Us? We never provoked a shutdown or debt limit crisis! Obamacare? Never heard of it! Oh, you mean that law that’s settled and we should offer some modest amendments later to help it work better?” All right I am (accurately) paraphrasing.
If only such pragmatic realists were influential. Alas…
… alas, the Tea Party is all- powerful in the House of Representatives because cynical Red State gerrymandering had two main consequences, one planned and the other calamitously unexpected:
1 – Gerrymandered districts became safe so Congresscritters could ignore the general election and especially snub the national mood. (Last year, 55% of Americans voted for a Democratic House, but gerrymandering gave us a GOP dominated one. Congratulations on a theft well-played. It may not last.)
2 – Gerrymandered districts become dominated by one party’s radicals. (And this applies too — though less volcanically — in Demo-gerried districts in Illinois and Maryland.) Even just 5% in a district – if fanatical enough – can swarm the party’s primary and terrorize any representative who even hints at compromise with the hated Communists… I mean satanists… I mean Demoncrats.
This radicalization has a solution! This worst aspect of gerrymandering can be lessened considerably by a trick that citizens themselves can pull, en masse, without needing any court cases or changes in law! I’ll talk about this solution online, soon. But until then, we are stuck with a House of Representatives that, thanks to party discipline, is run by its 20% craziest members.
Till a year ago, the House GOP Caucus took its orders (obeyed with a discipline not seen in the republic since the 1860s) from Roger Ailes, daily parroting every talking point that he issued from on-high. For a year though, loyalties have swerved away from Fox, deeply worrying Ailes and Rupert Murdoch. The caucus has instead veered to Sen. Ted Cruz and to Grover Norquist. And neither of them want to see a Senate compromise pass.
Cruz is gambling that both an extended shut-down and a full-tilt default will blow consequences his way and make him Master of the Right. Heir presumptive to the 2016 GOP nomination, and more.
Norquist is Savanarola of the cult that is fast taking over the entire right in America. One that seeks only one goal…
… to ensure that “government of the people, by the people, for the people SHALL perish from the Earth.”
If you think I exaggerate, even a little, then you do not know the man or his cult, nor have you followed Tea Party postings, as I sometimes do. In this, the New Confederacy seems to have dropped all pretenses. It truly is re-fighting the Civil War.
Where does all this leave us?
The Senate will act quickly, with plenty of GOP Senators joining to cloture any filibusters. They will pass the clean CR, the borrowing limit extension, and a resolution outlining a series of budget aims to be achieved before the CR expires in January or so.
These will be sent to the House, where Speaker John Boehner will have to decide… will he break with the Tea Party Caucus and throw the whole thing open to all members in an open vote? If so, he can step back and let the Democrats provide most of the votes, with just two dozen GOP members joining them, allowing the vast majority of Republicans to report to the Tea Party back home: “See? I fought to the bitter end! If that dag-nabbed Boehner hadn’t caved…”
If they are pragmatists, they will grab that face-saving way out and never mention that they could have bullied Boehner into hanging tough.
Crucial in this will be money. The Koch brothers will have to slip cash to those two dozen GOP sacrificial lambs and promise to help in their primaries to fend off Tea Party challenges. They must give LOTS to Boehner, since he might lose his speakership. If they channel a lot more for him to personally dole out to members, he might even keep his job. At this rate, the Kochs will pass the BILLION dollar level in cash spent manipulating American elections, before the 2016 campaign even begins. We have entered the era of Crassus. Get used to it.
And there you are
Of course the problem with predicting? It NEVER works well! Even with my sterling track record and a wiki that fans maintain, listing dozens of right-on forecasts fromEARTH and other novels and from The Transparent Society — I am easily wrong as often as right. (Which is – actually – rather a brag!) So no, I won’t bet my house on any of this.
All I’ve done is lay down a sequence that was already described – in less detail – a week ago. A plausible near-future sci fi extrapolation. So far, it seems to be unfolding this way.
We had better hope so. Because if it does, it will mean there are still some adults in Washington DC.
(Originally appeared at Contrary Brin)