The budget deal (deftly summarized here by Ezra Klein) announced on Tuesday by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray represents just how much of the playing field, in terms of fiscal policy, now belongs to drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub conservatives.
Oh, I understand that given the political realities of a divided Congress, given the economic need to restore at least some governing stability, that the deal is better than nothing. But so much of this un-grand bargain is tailored to sell to non- or semi-Tea Party Republicans in the House and Senate (the hard-core teapartiers will nevva evva buy into it, of course).
Take, for instance, the fact that the long-term unemployed are essentially told to go to hell, or to the soup line, whichever seems more appealing. In just a few weeks, the benefits provided by the federal government to 1.3 million former workers will expire. These unfortunate folks are mostly the victims of the Great Bush Recession, an economic calamity so Great that now, more than four years after the thing supposedly ended, people are still suffering.
But helping to alleviate the suffering of these and other folks in need is not one of what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan called the “core principles” of conservatives. That’s right, during the announcement of the deal on Tuesday, Ryan went out of his way to assure right-wingers that those principles have been preserved:
I expect we’re going to have a healthy vote in the House Republican Caucus. We are keeping our principles. The key here is nobody had to sacrifice their core principles. Our principles are don’t raise taxes, reduce the deficit.
Now, think about that for a minute. Paul Ryan could have said that “jobs” was a core principle of conservatives. He could have said “health care” was a core principle. He could have said “national defense.” Hell, he could have told the truth and said that “keeping Grover Norquist’s nuts warm” was a core principle. But he didn’t. The first thing that popped into his pickled pumpkin was, “Our principles are don’t raise taxes, reduce the deficit.” That’s it. Now that Barack Obama is president, that’s all that matters to these guys. Long-term unemployed? F’em!
Meanwhile, our side, because the economy is still limping along in so many ways, because we believe in governing, felt we had to make a pact that included abandoning those who, for a variety of reasons, can’t find a decent job. But is this the best deal possible? Could Democrats have insisted on continuing long-term unemployment benefits and called the implied Republican bluff to once again shut down the government?
Of course they could have. But it’s just not in the nature of those who value government to risk wrecking it again and injuring even more people. Our side could have told Paul Ryan that unless he included an extension of unemployment benefits, there would be no deal. And, given the dynamics involved, Ryan would have, eventually, had to take it. Why? Because there is no way in hell that Republicans, basking in the media-aided glow of the failure of the ObamaCare roll out, want to shift journalists’ attention away from all the “I got screwed” ObamaCare news stories to “Republicans did it again” stories about the harmful effects of yet another closure of government.
Thus there is one important reason why Republicans would have given up more than they did in this deal and why they would not have shut down the government again: They believe with all their hearts that keeping the focus on ObamaCare is their path to power. They believe, as Jim DeMint famously said before the Affordable Care Act was even passed, that “this health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America,” and,
If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.
And, you see, breaking Obama, breaking his black and Democratic back, is what this is mostly about, what it has always been mostly about. They despise this man. They hate what they deliberately misapprehend as his radical politics. They’ve never wanted him to succeed, domestically or diplomatically. If Obama wants a health reform law inspired by Republicans, they want to break him and call him a socialist. If Obama wants a jobs bill, they demand a deficit-reduction bill. If Obama suggests war, they want peace.If Obama wants peace, they suggest war. It’s been that way from the beginning of his presidency.
Alas, this deal will pass. It will become reality. And Democrats say that they will try to pursue extending long-term jobless benefits via separate legislation. Good for them. But it is hard to see how that will happen, now that the pressure is off, now that Republicans don’t have to worry about the backlash of a government shut down, now that they can go, full pelt, into an all-out assault on ObamaCare in their quest to break the law’s champion.
Meanwhile, the Super Bowl of politics continues to be played on the right side of the field. Meanwhile, the peopleless principles of the Republican Party—no new revenues and slashing government—continue to dominate the game.
Meanwhile, many of the victims of the Great Bush Recession are on their own.
[photo: J. Scott Applewhite]