Monday, January 28, 2013

Picking Their Fights

Doyle McManus had an interesting op-ed column this weekend, one that made sense to me and gave me a little hope that maybe this Congress will actually get something done.  He used the metaphor of "an orderly retreat," and I think it works beautifully.

Astonishingly, for perhaps the first time since they won the majority in 2010, Boehner's House Republicans were seized by a sudden fit of pragmatism. That debt ceiling that couldn't be lifted as a matter of sacred principle? It was "suspended" until May with only perfunctory debate.

Boehner's sometimes fractious lieutenants, Eric Cantor of Virginia and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, fell into line. Tea party firebrands including Michele Bachmann of Minnesota voted no, but they remained uncharacteristically quiet.

Score one for Boehner.

It may seem painfully obvious that a political party needs to seek favorable ground on which to wage its battles — to choose "smart fights" and avoid dumb ones.
But until last week, Democrats could pretty much count on House Republicans to ignore that rule. Only three weeks ago, the same Republicans had dared President Obama to take the country over a fiscal cliff of brutal tax increases and spending cuts — only to retreat in disarray when they noticed that the country wasn't behind them.

The logic of Boehner's gambit last week was straightforward: A debt ceiling showdown looked like another dumb fight. The speaker wants to change the subject to federal spending, an issue on which conservatives think they have more public support. On March 1, deep automatic cuts in both domestic and military spending are scheduled to take effect. And on March 27, the federal government will have to shut down unless Congress passes a new spending bill. Both of those events, Republicans say, will let them push for new spending cuts without the hair-raising dangers of a debt-ceiling crisis.   [Emphasis added]

First, apparently Speaker Boehner is getting better at herding cats.  Maybe he got some coaching from Nancy Pelosi, or maybe House Republicans finally figured out that they actually took quite a hit in November and might want to change their mode of operating.  Their obstructionism in the last Congress led to their actually losing ground in both houses.

Secondly, and more importantly, the manufacturing of crises to get their way just didn't work the way they thought it would.  The President isn't playing nice any more, and he's making them look bad.

I'm not suggesting that congressional Republicans will turn into nice guys who will voluntarily cut the entitlements to oil companies, banks, large farm corporations, and wealthy investors.  Not hardly.  They've still got their knives out for Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid.  At least, however, they are now meeting with Democrats to start on the broad outlines for an immigration reform bill, something that has been totally off the table with them.  That's a start.

With a little more pressure from the public, they might even consider cutting the Pentagon budget, lopping off a few of the more ridiculous programs and cheating contractors.

I sure hope so, even though I know hope is not a plan.

Popcorn futures are up.

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