There's no point in negotiating with nihilists
by David Atkins
Let's recap: after the Republican Party took the country hostage by threatening the full faith and credit of the United States last year, the sitting President of the United States with an allied Senate majority caved to an extremist House majority and delivered "98 percent of what [his opponents] wanted." They made a deal that would supposedly force Congress to address the supposed deficit crisis after the election by the end of the lame duck session, presumably after the Presidential election when little pressure from the voters remained. In theory, the Presidential election would also provide an impetus for negotiating strength for one side or the other, depending on the choice of the American people after a lengthy argument about national priorities.
As it turns out, the sitting Democratic President won re-election in a landslide, while his Democratic allies improbably gained seats in the Senate and narrowed the gap in the House, only failing to take a majority because of extreme gerrymandering. The polling showed strong support for Democratic solutions to the manufactured fiscal crisis, including a majority of Republicans in favor of increasing taxes on those making over $250,000 a year, as well as nationally firm resistance to any cuts to Social Security or Medicare.
But still the gerrymandered bare Republican House majority refused to budge. The President agreed to an array of concessions, including pushing the income level for the increased marginal rate to $400,000 instead of $250,000, and delivering a massive cut to Social Security in the guise of "Chained CPI", ensuring that Social Security benefits won't rise even as real cost of living does. This despite an American public that strongly supported progressive solutions to budget issues and had just elected Democrats who promised not to touch Social Security.
In response to the President's unbelievable deference, Republican Speaker John Boehner offered a "Plan B" so preposterous it should frankly have been interpreted as a refusal to negotiate. It called for reductions to food stamps, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and Social Security in order to prevent any cuts to military spending, while bumping up the marginal rate income level to a whopping $1 million a year. Basically, Speaker Boehner's plan was to starve and kill the poor, the sick and the elderly in order to preserve tax cuts for some of America's wealthiest citizens and bloated military spending the Pentagon doesn't even want. Senate Democrats were rightly offended by this bit of Christmastime callousness too cruel for Ebenezer Scrooge and immediately announced the proposed bill a non-starter.
As if this weren't stupid enough, Speaker Boehner then pushed his proposal to the House floor anyway. And it failed because it's wasn't conservative enough for House Republicans. An eventuality the Speaker knew would occur, as he read out the Serenity prayer and announced that the he didn't have the votes prior to taking the vote.
Unless one believes that House Republicans want a sequester, the only possible explanation for a refusal to accept Boehner's ultra-conservative "Plan B" is sheer belligerent nihilism on the part of the Republican caucus. It's the political equivalent of a suicide bomber so deeply wedded to ideological fervor that self-destruction and the annihilation of countless innocent victims is preferable to any form of good-faith dialogue or negotiation.
The White House claims it will still work with Congress to negotiate a deal. It's hard to see how, though. If Speaker Boehner tries to bring forward a neoliberal bill that most Democrats and just enough Republicans can pass, it will be the end of his political career--and Republicans may just attempt to remove him before he gets a chance. Nothing that can gain Republican majority support in the House has a chance of getting through the Senate even if the President were willing to accept the unthinkable just to make a deal.
Republicans are already taking the blame from the American public for their refusal to act in a sane manner.
The President and his Democratic need to simply take us over the cliff and offer the Republicans a pure middle-class tax cut, as well as a reversal of the most unacceptable sequestration cuts. Then keep offering the same deal all the way until November 2014 if need be to increase the pressure and the pain.
There's no point in negotiating with nihilists.