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Monday, December 16, 2013

The Brief Life of Bipartisanship and the Return of the Wingnuts

Hey, remember how the modest two year budget deal hammered out by Paul Ryan and Patty Murray was a sign that insane partisanship was on its way out? Yeah, you can stop shoveling dirt in gridlock's grave, because Republican hostage-taking isn't all that very dead yet.

Wall Street Journal: House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) signaled that Republicans would not raise the debt ceiling next year without some sort of concessions from Democrats, saying lawmakers were still crafting their strategy.

“We, as a caucus, along with our Senate counterparts, are going to meet and discuss what it is we want to get out of the debt limit,” Mr. Ryan said on Fox News Sunday. “We don’t want ‘nothing’ out of the debt limit. We’re going to decide what it is we can accomplish out of this debt limit fight.”

The U.S. government spends more money than it brings in through taxes, which means the Treasury Department has to borrow money by issuing debt. The government can only borrow money up to a certain level - called the debt ceiling – which is set by Congress. In October, lawmakers agreed to “suspend” the debt limit until Feb. 7, 2014. The White House has said it will no longer negotiate with Republicans on conditions for raising the debt limit, but many Republicans have said they will only vote to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for budget changes like spending cuts.


Is it an empty threat? Maybe. Democrats and the White House have adopted a "no negotiating with hostage-takers" policy, making it clear that only clean debt ceiling bills will be considered. They can do this because the previous debt ceiling fiasco and the more recent government shutdown have firmly established the GOP as the usual suspects to be rounded up when that particular brand of mayhem goes down.

But the fact is that the far right are not at all happy with the budget deal and it may be that GOP leadership -- or just Ryan himself -- sees the need to throw red meat to the 'baggers.The Tea Party may have lost a lot of clout by demanding suicidal moves from the Republican Party, but they're still going to have an outsized influence on the party's primaries. These TP candidates may not stand much of a chance of making a real dent in incumbents, but that doesn't mean that party establishment types don't have to take them seriously. Those 'bagger candidates will run ads and those ads will need to be answered. Money will have to be spent -- money candidates would much rather spend in the general election against their Democratic rivals.

And, of course, it wouldn't be a Republican primary without candidates trying to out-wingnut each other. This is probably the bigger problem for GOP candidates -- the primary pulls them way over to the right and when they try a Mitt Romney-like shift back toward the middle in the general, they find it's just too far to go. You can't have sound-bite after sound-bite promising all-out war against Democratic policies, only to later contradict them all by promising to work toward greater unity in Washington. Yet this is what Republicans in more competitive general election fights will be forced to do.

And Paul Ryan's preemptive hostage-taking is the party already being dragged right. He knows this sort of talk doesn't fly with anyone at all other than the teabaggers, but he figures the damage done by betraying America and sleeping with the enemy hammering out a pitifully limited and unambitious budget deal with Patty Murray is a wound that needs first aid pronto.

This is yet another corner the GOP have painted themselves into; if they ignore the outraged base and insist -- as they have been -- that the Ryan-Murray deal is how Washington is supposed to work, the 'baggers completely lose it and all hell eventually breaks loose. If they cave into the base and crash the economy with a doomed debt ceiling fight, they deliver yet another self-inflicted wound to a party already dying a demographic death of a thousand cuts. And worst of all, it's hard to see how they could've avoided it. All the traps the GOP snare themselves in these days were actually set long ago, when they decided to use rightwing media to outrage Republican voters over things that aren't actually real. Now those voters demand that Republicans respond to those fantasy problems in the fantasy world, rather than the real problems in this world. The party has completely lost control of their messaging and now their BS is in control of them. What about the birth certificate? What about all the plots to bring communism to America? Disarming patriots and sending them to FEMA camps? The UN takeover? What about BENGHAZI!!?

So how does Ryan get out of this particular self-laid bear trap? I'm not really sure. And I kind of doubt he knows. Which means there could be a debt limit debacle in the cards. It seems doubtful -- Republicans know they're bluffing and they know Democrats will call their bluff -- but what else is there?

The sin of getting government to work in even the most modest way demands an atonement. And Paul Ryan isn't eager to lie down on that sacrificial altar himself.


[photo by Gage Skidmore]

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