We’ve learned a lot from the fight to attach spending cuts to the debt limit increase. Here are five of the lessons:
1) President Obama can’t negotiate his way out of a paper bag. He yearned for a “grand bargain” of $4 trillion in cuts and tax hikes, giving him something to brag about in the 2012 campaign. He might have gotten it if he hadn’t performed so clumsily once he took over the talks. He took away cuts agreed to by Vice President Biden and insisted on tax increases that couldn’t be offset in tax reform. He made an offer Republicans were bound to refuse.
2) Obama and Democrats don’t want to cut spending. Okay, this isn’t new, just freshly confirmed. They agree to cuts only under extreme duress. On Saturday, House Democrats railed against any cuts in Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid – or in just about anything else. Instead, they listed the spending programs they like. The president said again last night he wanted a “balanced” deal with tax hikes and cuts “from the beginning.” Not so. At the beginning he wanted a “clean” bill with no cuts at all.
3) Nancy Pelosi has slipped the bonds of rational discourse. It wasn’t just her riffs about saving the planet and House speaker John Boehner’s drift to the “dark side.” His bill “eliminates” Medicare, she said. (It didn’t touch Medicare.) Republicans are “destroying the public space of clean air, clean water, food safety, the education of our children, the health, financial security of seniors.” That was Saturday. On Friday, she cited the Founding Fathers as foes of Boehner. His bill must be defeated “to honor the sacrifice of our Founders.”
4) Contrary to the media narrative, Tea Party Republicans in the House didn’t oppose Boehner. Most voted with him. Only 10 of the 87 GOP freshmen, the Tea Party core in Congress, voted “no.” Credit the Tea Party, however, with creating the climate for cutting spending and the idea of using the debt limit as a vehicle for doing it. No Tea Party, no cuts, and a happy Obama.
5) A tricky part of the debt limit deal is the 12-member panel to decide on the second round of cuts. Since Democrats will fight to minimize cuts and maximize tax increases, Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell need to pick their most reliable negotiators. A party leader, a master of the budget, and a freshman would work: Senators John Kyl, Jeff Sessions, and Marco Rubio, and Representatives Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Allen West.