Bad Poker And The Distorted Middle

Likely because of President Obama’s pressing Democrats in the House to vote with John Boehner, 57 of them supported CRomnibus, which was more than enough to ensure passage of the bill last night, 219-206. Tea Party nuts couldn’t stomach the bill and 67 of them essentially said it wasn’t extreme enough for their extremist tastes.

Now that the House passed the spending bill, the Senate will likely do so sometime this weekend and President Obama will sign the damned thing and we will move on to the next Republican-inspired crisis. That’s the way it has been since after the 2010 election, since radicals on the right took over de facto command of the Republican Party.

The sad thing about it all is that many of our guys, the people we expect to look after the interests of the little guy, put up a good fight but will lose in the end because President Obama and Harry Reid, pragmatically conspiring with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, decided that taking the spending bill deal—even with all the goodies in it for fat cat political donors and fat cat bankers, as well as other provisions that should make Democrats nauseous—was better than waiting until next year when Republicans will be in full control of Congress and better than risking that they would get the blame for a government shutdown.

I happen to find that pragmatism, which I normally support because I understand compromise is a necessary part of making things work, a bad and unnecessary call in this case. Republicans could not have passed the bill in the House as it stood. If Boehner wanted to get Democrats to help him, he should have been forced to pull those offensive provisions. If Democrats can’t win public sentiment by opposing sweetheart deals for rich people—stuffed in a so-called “must pass” piece of legislation—then it is hard to see how they can win anything. If Republicans were willing to risk a shutdown by insisting that they would not excise from the do-or-die bill provisions that make the world safer for the moneyed class, including Wall Street, then it seems a no-brainer that Democrats could win the resulting PR fight. But there won’t be a fight, apparently.

As much as I admire Mr. Obama, he has never been much of a poker player. Maybe chess is his game. But politics like we see going on right now—in this era of Tea Party extremism—is not a cerebral game of chess, not a matter of thinking seven moves ahead. It is about bluffs and calling bluffs, about who has the guts to go all in, making the other side have to choose between calling or folding. Most of the time, Republicans are very good at the game. Our side usually folds, for good reasons—we want government to keep running and helping people—and bad reasons—some on our side actually are pretty cozy with fat cats and find them good company.

The CRomnibus bill is, in important ways, fairly extreme. Oh, sure, there were some things in there that Democrats wanted, you know, like keeping the freaking government running, but the provision to drastically increase contribution limits to political party committees by a factor of 10—from $32,400 to $324,000 a year—doesn’t exactly apply to working stiffs, which should be a major Democratic constituency. There aren’t too many working people I know who can contribute to political campaigns $324, much less $32,400 or, God help us, $324,000. Rich people, though, now have even more ammunition to bid against each other, as our demwall street cashes inocracy is, election by election, quickly being auctioned off.

Likewise, the provision to repeal parts of Dodd-Frank, the recent legislative attempt by Democrats to rein in some of the excesses of Wall Street, is a gift to bankers, who now, as Vox put it, “are free to make risky bets that put taxpayers and the financial system as a whole at greater risk.” How would you like to put a bet on, say, the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend (you’ll have to give 11 1/2 points) against the Oakland Raiders and know that if you win, you win, and if you lose, the taxpayer behind the curtain will cover your loss? Yeah, me too. That’d be pretty sweet. That’s why Citigroup went to a lot of trouble to write the provision and get it inserted into CRomnibus.

Perhaps the worst thing about all this is that President Obama, at least if you listen to his spokesman, still doesn’t get it, when it comes to evaluating and responding to deals with Republicans. Read this, from HuffPo:

White House spokesman Josh Earnest argued that the bill does more good than bad, and that it represented compromise for the GOP, which initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

“This is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years now,” Earnest said in an appearance on MSNBC.

I’m sure the bill does more good than bad, since the government, or most of it, will keep going until October. And, as I said, compromising is part of the political process. But look at what Earnest based the idea of this compromise on: Republicans “initially wanted to gut the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s executive actions on immigration.” See how clever Republicans are, when they are negotiating with this White House? They take the most extreme position possible as a starting point and force non-poker-playing Democrats to move way over to their side, to a distorted middle, and call that a compromise. That’s not compromise, it’s bad poker.

And, I hate to say it, if “this is the kind of compromise that the president’s been seeking from Republicans for years,” then I am not looking forward to the last two years of his presidency.

5 Comments

  1. Talk about negotiating from weakness! The President might just as well have stated that the bill was a “compromise” because it didn’t include any provisions legalizing the murder of puppies and kittens.

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  2. King Beauregard

     /  December 12, 2014

    Disappointing all right, but I still reserve my anger for the people who are responsible for this being a problem at all, in no particular order:

    – Republican politicians

    – Republican voters

    – So-called “Progressives” who withhold their votes

    They can all rot.

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  3. Bad poker, I agree. However, I did like Elizabeth Warren’s hearty appeal for Democratic resistance to the two repugnant insertions. She’s a rising star and I have to admit, I like the cut of her jib better than Hillary’s. Wish she would run.

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    • King Beauregard

       /  December 12, 2014

      I think her talents would be wasted in the Oval Office, though. Any old Democratic president can sign a landmark bill into law; it takes Senator Warrens to draft and pass those bills.

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  4. ansonburlingame

     /  December 13, 2014

    Duane,

    The two extremes in American politics, the Tea Party and liberals like you and yours are both upset. Neither got what they wanted and both are going after their respective leadership now. Pelosi essentially told Obama to butt off! Given the nature of both extremes I was happy to see the bill pass. No more ACA rants, spending (at too low a level in my view) for Defense, etc. are all now out of the public eye until next year. Only some attempt to limit Immigration changes, a la Executive Order, will be in our face come January/Feb.

    As for Warren, I was glad to see her rise in great anger. I suppose you saw her clip from Sept 30, 2013 ranting against Cruz. Talk about two faced, but she at least showed her bloomers for their true color, a “Graham liberal”. Now the stage is set for a knock down drag out between Hillary and Warren and whomever else may enter the fray come next year.

    In recent emails with a liberal pundit at the national level, he told me he thought the Dems were “killing themselves” in this round!!

    Anson

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