There’s a lot of posturing going on around the latest government shutdown / hostage standoff by the Republicans. As Howie Klein points out here, many vulnerable Republicans are telling their districts that they’re opposed to the shutdown — which the public strongly opposes — while voting Yes on the shutdown in Washington.
I’ll tell you what Dems are doing in a moment.
Look, this shutdown story is being told in a number of ways:
Well, that’s wrong. There is a third choice and it’s this:
▪ The Republicans, all of them, have wanted a standoff like this since the 2012 election; they just couldn’t agree on how to stage it.
You read that right. They looked like they were dithering and dathering, lurching hither and yon, because they couldn’t agree on what to hold as the hostage and how to stage the battle. Would the hostage be Obamacare? The Ryan budget? The sequester cuts? Deeper cuts than that? Reinstate the Bush tax cuts?
Well, they finally settled, by fits and starts, on Repeal Obamacare Now, and here we are.
The Williamsburg Accord in January 2013 set the Republican strategy for Obama’s second term
You’ve probably never heard of the so-called “Williamsburg Accord” agreement that came out of the Republican retreat in early 2013. I’ll let Jonathan Chait tell the story, from an excellent New York magazine article (my emphasis and some reparagraphing everywhere):
In January, demoralized House Republicans retreated to Williamsburg, Virginia, to plot out their legislative strategy for President Obama’s second term. Conservatives were angry that their leaders had been unable to stop the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on high incomes, and sought assurances from their leaders that no further compromises would be forthcoming. The agreement that followed, which Republicans called “The Williamsburg Accord,” received obsessive coverage in the conservative media but scant attention in the mainstream press. …
But the decision House Republicans made in January has set the party on the course it has followed since. If you want to grasp why Republicans are careening toward a potential federal government shutdown, and possibly toward provoking a sovereign debt crisis after that, you need to understand that this is the inevitable product of a conscious party strategy. Just as Republicans responded to their 2008 defeat by moving farther right, they responded to the 2012 defeat by moving right yet again. Since they had begun from a position of total opposition to the entire Obama agenda, the newer rightward lurch took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises.
The first element of the strategy is a kind of legislative strike. Initially, House Republicans decided to boycott all direct negotiations with President Obama, and then subsequently extended that boycott to negotiations with the Democratic Senate. (Senate Democrats have spent months pleading with House Republicans to negotiate with them, to no avail.) This kind of refusal to even enter negotiations is highly unusual. The way to make sense of it is that Republicans have planned since January to force Obama to accede to large chunks of the Republican agenda, without Republicans having to offer any policy concessions of their own.
This is take-no-prisoners politics to accomplish policy goals of radical conservative revolutionaries. Does it look familiar? Most likely you’ve been watching it most or all of your life.
What looks to the more astute like a “Republican civil war” is really this (Chait again):
Republicans have thrashed this way and that throughout the year. Republicans have fallen out, often sharply, over which hostages to ransom, with the most conservative ones favoring a government shutdown threat and the more pragmatic wing, oddly, endorsing a debt default threat. They have also struggled to define the terms of their ransom.
But they’re all in it, every one of them. Does this look like an “Obamacare” fight? At the core it’s not, though repealing Obamacare is a huge “want” for them all. Does it look like a “conscience clause” ban-contraception fight? At the heart it’s not, though overturning Griswold and getting rid of contraception (and any right of privacy for women) is a huge “want” for the whole of the radical-conservative party as well.
In reality, this is a “how do we impose our will on them” battle, with various factions fighting over which of their policy wants to put upfront. Do read the rest of Chait’s good piece. It’s an eye-opener.
Abraham Lincoln encountered that attitude, that approach, in dealing with the radical South, as he said in his famous Cooper Union speech:
Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. …
[W]hat will convince them [Southern slave owners]? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly – done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated – we must place ourselves avowedly with them.
All or nothing, or everyone dies. The same thing happened in 1879, remarkably, using a standoff over government funding as the chosen battleground:
Today’s shutdown crisis has an eerily familiar predecessor. It echoes America’s first battle over a government shutdown, which came not in the 20th century, but rather, shortly after the Civil War. In 1879, ex-Confederates in Congress [Southern Democrats, the radical conservatives of their day], desperate to turn the direction of the nation, refused to fund the government unless the Republican president promised to abandon his party and do things their way.
Republicans [at the time the party of Lincoln] then saw the situation for what it was. “If this is not revolution,” House Minority Leader James Garfield concluded, “which if persisted in will destroy the government, [then] I am wholly wrong in my conception of both the word and the thing.”
Garfield knew exactly what revolution meant. He had fought to protect his government from revolutionaries at the Battle of Shiloh, where more than 13,000 Union soldiers fell, and at Chickamauga, which took another 16,000. Only 14 years later, the very same men who had made war against the government on the battlefield were making war against it from their congressional seats. …
Having lost on the battlefields, [revolutionary Southern Democrats] would coerce the president to give in to them or they would starve the government to death. …
Though the policy issue was the use of federal troops to enforce the right of former slaves to vote, the tactic was a radical reversal of the Constitution itself — just what we’re seeing today:
[A]t issue was the very structure of American government.
[Republican] President Hayes and Minority leader Garfield recognized that if an extremist faction in Congress could force its will on the country by holding government finances hostage, it would erase the power of the president and destroy the basic structure of the American government’s separation of powers. Even moderate [non-Southern] Democrats, who didn’t particularly like the idea of troops enforcing black rights, agreed that the threat was truly revolutionary and menaced the Constitution.
If the extremists’ tactics worked, this would be only the first of their demands, and the country would fall, as one Democrat said, under “the absolute despotism of an irresponsible and unrestrained partisan majority” in Congress.
Hayes and Garfield didn’t give in (that was so then), and they ultimately won the standoff. But the constitutional question was never settled:
[T]he ultimate reluctance of ex-Confederates to force a constitutional crisis so soon after the Civil War meant that America never resolved the crucial question of what to do when a faction in Congress refuses to fund the government unless it gets its way.
And now they’re back.
You might think that Obama and the rest of the neoliberal leaders of his party have been standing firm. And that would be true in that they are refusing (so far) to cave to the demand to defund or repeal Obamacare. And they’ll probably stand firm on the other issues that aren’t primarily economic.
But as digby points out:
I think one of the major misunderstandings (willful, in many cases) of this budget mess is that it’s about Republicans just running around willy-nilly screaming “nonononono” like toddlers having a temper tantrum. I know it looks that way, but that’s not what’s happening. This is a strategy.
The Senate Continuing Resolution Is Already a Compromise
The Senate-passed measure to keep the government operating represents an enormous compromise by progressives to avoid a damaging government shutdown. The Democrat-controlled Senate agreed to temporary funding levels that are far closer to the Republican-controlled House budget plan than they are to the Senate’s own budget for fiscal year 2014. Moreover, this concession is only the latest of many such compromises over the past several years.
The Democrat-controlled Senate passed a continuing resolution, or CR—a temporary funding measure meant to keep the government operating—that would set the relevant funding levels at an annualized total of $986 billion. That’s about $70 billion less than what the Senate endorsed as part of its comprehensive budget plan back in April. But [even] that actually understates the extent of the compromise. …
Do read the rest. They’re agreeing to starve the government. They can’t agree on how much. Digby’s comment?
Last night Steny Hoyer shouted this on floor during one of the debates:
“This is not a negotiation — we’re taking their [the Republican budget] number, and we would hope that they could also take their number so we can keep the government open.”
You see? The Democrats already folded. Sequestration is now the ongoing law of the land and Paul Ryan’s budget wet dream is considered the “clean” continuing resolution.
And yet, they were not satisfied.
Sound familiar? Digby adds:
With the exception of some chump change from millionaires in the last round, the Democrats have been losing on policy every step of the way since these budget battles began, even as they seem to be winning the politics. What could be more telling than the fact that the numbers in Paul Ryan’s budget are now considered the starting point in any new negotiations to end the shutdown.
Who’s being played here?
I’ll resist answering that last question, and offer another. I know that the free-market, Catfood-for-Grannie Democrats are opposed to the Ryan budget — but how opposed? They’re both starving the government. It’s just that one will strangle it as well.
Are you ready for Social Security cuts or Catfood CPI or Medicare retirement age changes or Medicare means testing or any of the other wet-dream benefit cuts Obama and Boehner both want to be thrown in to this negotiation as well? Could happen.
The only thing preventing more strangle-the-government budget cuts is all-or-nothing Republican tactics
And that’s your bottom line. Whom do you want to root for? What do you want the outcome to be? A government shutdown that ends in fatal-to-many budget and health care cuts, or a government shutdown that ends in crippling-to-many (and fatal to some) benefit cuts?
Friends, you don’t have a friend in this fight, and Class War Kitteh knows it. Here’s her comment on that Ryan budget spoken about above:
And Braveheart can’t believe his ears:
But I can believe mine:
“This is not a negotiation — we’re taking their [budget] number.”
To take us back to the beginning, we don’t have a Lincoln on our side, standing firm on policy. We have free-trade benefit cutters like Barack Obama, Robert Rubin, Pete Peterson–endorsing Bill Clinton, and soon (perhaps) Clinton the Next, giving away most of the store instead of it all. Do you feel fortunate? Or paraphrasing digby, do you feel played?
Our personal brave new world. It has these people in it.
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