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The GOP's Enduring Obstructionism: There's No Bargaining With These Republicans

The Republican Party is not about to work with the president for the common good.

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As the political historian  Rick Perlstein wrote on Thursday:

In fact, the increase in the deficit was caused directly by the financial crisis and the housing bubble, and had nothing to do with the middle-class entitlement programs a grand bargain would cut. What’s more, the deficit is perfectly sustainable in any event. As for the record national debt, in fact the rest of the world’s eagerness to lend to America at next to no cost is in fact a glorious opportunity to increase American well-being, something not to be feared but welcomed. (America’s debt to GDP ratio is about 70 percent. Japan’s is over 225 percent — and that island, with the world’s third-largest economy, has not sunk into the sea. In fact, from 2001 to 2010 its economic growth has generally surpassed ours.)

America’s government is not too big. It is not “out of control.” Measured by the number of public sector employees compared to the overall population, in fact, it is at its smallest size since 1968. The Democratic compulsion to take the lead in making it smaller, to “control” it, is in itself a serious historic problem —and a perverse one at that. For it doesn’t work. Bill Clinton tried it in the 1990s, working with Republicans in Congress both to obliterate the deficit caused by Republican budgetary mismanagement, and “end welfare as we know it.”

What happened to the resulting budgetary surplus they created? Republican mismanagement and ideological extremism obliterated it, and the public acted like no miracle save for drastic cuts in middle-class entitlements could ever bring it back; media gatekeepers immediately forgot that Democrats had been “responsible” fiscal stewards, just like much of the populace simply forgot what Clinton did with welfare. After Hurricane Katrina, the story was that black residents of New Orleans had become so enervated by their reliance on welfare checks they were too dumb to get out of the rain. It was as if America’s newly stripped-bare welfare system’s time limits, work requirements and block grants had been thrown down a memory hole — even as, seven years later in our current unemployment crisis, according to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, welfare reform now greatly contributes to increased rates of poverty.

A simple historical fact: There is no political payoff for Democrats in presiding over governmental austerity.

After a hard fought election in which two competing economic models were sharply debated, the man who won with a mandate margin has no reason to compromise. Even if the Republicans hadn't so consistently proved themselves petty and vindictive and intransigent and dishonest, there would be no reason for President Obama to compromise. The president won with a growth agenda, and Mitt Romney lost with an austerity agenda. On both politics and policy, the president holds all the cards. The traditional Democratic approach works, and the Republican and conservative agenda fails. When Democrats stand their ground,  Republicans back down. The president already has threatened to veto a "fiscal cliff" bill that doesn't include tax hikes for the wealthy, and if McConnell and Boehner won't negotiate, they must be made to take the fall for any failure. As  Joan McCarter recently explained:

Not taking action is a very real option: letting the Bush tax cuts expire, then coming back with just a middle-class tax cut, which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid  has in hand. The Senate has already passed a bill that would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for top earners, undercutting the House's ability to take middle-class tax cuts hostage to the tax cuts for the wealthy. It also gives Democrats more bargaining power to leave out other concessions, like cuts to entitlements.

In fact, for the first time in forever, there's no discussion at all about Democratic concessions on entitlements in this Washington Post article. At this juncture, Democrats have the upper hand in these negotiations, without making any concessions. They actually have had that upper hand all along. The easiest thing to do has always been to let the tax cuts expire, and then put Republicans in the position of having to block restoring them for the middle class in order to protect the wealthy. With the Senate having already passed the middle-class bill, that path is even clearer.

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