Budget Standoff: White House Should Let Boehner Twist in the Wind
The Washington Post reports:
Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill say they are about $5 billion apart in their haggling to reach a deal to fund the federal government for the rest of the year. That amounts to one-half of 1 percent of the trillion dollars in spending Congress doles out each year. Five one-thousandths.
In other words, what we're really looking at is a big battle over face-saving. Neither side wants to make the final compromise. Since the amount of money being discussed is almost meaningless, the real fight has shifted to the policy riders passed in the House version of the budget bill. Those riders include a ban on funding Planned Parenthood and a provision that would gut the Environmental Protection Agency's power to regulate carbon in the atmosphere. There is no chance that the Democrats will accede to these riders, although they might make some kind of symbolic concessionary nods in their direction. In reality, Boehner only wants to be able to say he won something.
Publicly, Boehner and Reid continue to argue over Republican demands that any deal include restrictions on abortion funding and environmental regulations. Democrats oppose such restrictions. Privately, both sides acknowledge that these may turn out to be bargaining chips that the GOP will ultimately remove from a final agreement in exchange for deeper cuts or other concessions.
Personally, I think the Republicans have done a poor job of positioning themselves. The amount of money they're fighting for is too small to justify closing the government, and the people won't understand why they closed the government over funding for women's reproductive health or regulations that give us clean air and water, and help address climate change. Under these circumstances, I don't see any reason not to call Boehner's bluff and force him to openly capitulate or shut down the government.
The possible downside for the Democrats is that the shutdown will be blamed on the government generally, without any differentiation between parties or much weighting of blame on either side. The delegitimization of government is one of the Republicans' long-term projects, and the more dysfunctional it is, the easier their task is in convincing people that it can't do anything right. That's a risk the Democrats have to take, though, because the Republicans do have sufficient power to force bad choices upon us.
I think it's clear that Boehner doesn't think his party will benefit from a shutdown at this time and would prefer to avert one so he can threaten another shutdown later in the year. But he needs a fig-leaf. We should not provide a fig-leaf. Leave him naked and defeated and defending an indefensible shutdown. Our position is strong. There is no reason to offer Boehner a life-line right now.