Let’s Make a Deal! (But Don’t Blame Us)


Imagine you’re the Democrat President, and you want a deal on the debt ceiling without your base screaming at you. How do you get around it?  What if you’re the Republican Speaker of the House, and you similarly want a deal, but you know anything that appears to surrender the details to the opposition will become an electoral catastrophe for you? If you’re the Democrat Majority Leader in the Senate, you have a problem not unlike the President’s, but yours is slightly more flexible.  By what sort of confounded mechanism can all of these men be absolved of culpability for a deal none of their respective bases want while still striking their agreement?  Why is a deal so important, anyway?

The easy part is the President.  All he needs to do is veto whatever comes from the Congress.  After that, he’ll be out of the loop.  Speaker Boehner’s remarks Friday evening, after the much ballyhooed ‘walk-out,’ stating he would no longer negotiate with the White House, was the clue.  The only way any deal happens at this point is with an override of a Presidential Veto, and that’s what Speaker Boehner’s remark portends.

Of course, such a maneuver is only possible if the House and Senate are able to push forward a bill that 2/3s of each house can support.  Therein lies the trouble.  While the President is off the hook, the Minority Leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, is going to be told to make her folks walk the plank for a deal.  In the same way, Majority Leader Reid in the Senate will be walking a similar plank.  Of course, it will be portrayed differently, and when all the details finally arrive, what we will have is something far more palatable to Democrats than to Republicans.  That’s not how it will be sold, to be certain, and the plank-walking will be minimized. You’ll know we’ve been thoroughly shafted when they call it a ‘bipartisan deal’ from both houses and both parties.  The media will arrive on the scene to tell us it must be a fair deal, because nobody really likes it.  Sure.  We’ve all seen this film before.

The Senate will pass the bill with sufficient numbers, barely, to let the most troubled Democrats off the hook, and a few Republicans too.  Those up in 2012 will get first priority on the Nays because it’s a standard assumption in Washington that the electorate has a short memory.  Bank on most of the 2/3s required to override a veto in the Senate to come from those who won’t face voters again until 2014 or 2016.  So how many is that?  Well, roughly 2/3s, as only 1/3 of the Senate is up for re-election in any even-numbered election year, since Senators have six-year terms.   Strange, isn’t it, the way this math works out?

So what does it look like over in the House, where any such bill must originate?  In the House, 290 votes are needed to meet the 2/3s requirement to override a veto.  The Republicans alone make up most of that number, but there will be reliable defections as some members, who are in tough districts, or who have made strict pledges, will balk at the suicide of going forward with a bill that doesn’t ultimately meet the demands of those who elected them.  There will be approximately 30-40 Republicans who cannot be convinced to walk that plank, perhaps more. Figuring you need nearly 30 Democrats to obtain the 2/3s number even if all the Republicans play ball,  what the non-plank-walking Republicans will cause is a number of roughly 60 Democrats who must walk the plank instead.  They will come from reliably ‘safe’ Democrat districts where the member won in the last election by a safe margin, where the voters will overwhelmingly support them, however they vote.

It’s said that politics makes strange bed-fellows, and it’s true.  What is likewise true is that it’s generally the American people who wind up ‘losing their virtue’ when one of these ‘deals’ is executed under cover.   One of the important reforms needed in Congress is something simple, that the politicians of neither party wish to do:  It should be law that so long as Congress is meeting, so long as there are debates or committees meeting, the phone lines ought to be staffed. After all, it’s not as though their staff isn’t present.  You may have noticed that they do many of these ‘deals’ after normal hours, and on weekends, and that’s not accidental either. “You have reached the office of Representative(or Senator) so-and-so…” Yes, voice-mail. “Leave your message at the tone…”  That way, they can be sure to get back to you, or hear your opinion on the vote they’re holding…after it no longer matters.

Now you might well be wondering why a deal matters.  You might be one of those folks who have reasonably concluded that the government can continue to meet its obligations even if the debt ceiling isn’t immediately raised, given the revenues it will receive over the course of the month.  Well, yes, you’re right, but do you think they want you to have proof of that thesis?  How will they frighten you next time? Or the next? Or the one after?

How will they prod all of the people dependent upon government benefits if they let this snarling, hissing cat out of the bag?

No, they cannot afford for you to ever discover any of that, so they have a two-pronged approach:

1. If at all possible, make a deal, but do so at the last possible moment to ‘stave off catastrophe.’

2. Failing that, if the date arrives without a deal, inflict massive pain.  Purposefully withhold government’s payments until the American people beg for a deal, any deal at all. Social Security checks won’t go, though they could. Medicare payments won’t be made, though the funds are on hand.  The military won’t be funded, and as a last resort, they will punish you by collapsing the markets by failing to make good on governmental debt service(paying our interest) and causing the markets to panic.

You see, this isn’t any longer about what real effects a failure to make a deal will have on the country, but about what sort of damage they may find it necessary to inflict so that you will accept a deal, no matter how bad, how objectionable or how contrary to the principles on which they’ve campaigned.  There are a couple handfuls in the Senate, and a few dozen in the House, who will not be swayed.  The leadership of both houses and both parties are prepared to work around them.  The problem really is this: For the folks in leadership, and almost all the folks in the Senate particularly, they are fielding calls from big-money contributors, Wall Street types, who are screaming at them that they had better cut a deal.  Seriously, how many households in the country can afford to make maximum legal donations to any politician for any election cycle?  Truth be told, not many.  Main Street types will mostly oppose these deals, but most of them operate too close to the margins to have the kind of cash Senators need contributors to toss their ways.

You see, part of what’s not being said in all of this is that Wall Street is being propped up by big government now.  Wall Street knows that if they’re cut off from this gravy train, the fiat money bubble will burst, and a Dow at 12,000 or better will quickly become a Dow beneath 8,000.  To undertake the allegedly ‘radical’ Cut, Cap and Balance bill would cut off some of the gravy, and that’s why the Senate killed it.  They know where their bread is buttered.

So you see, this really comes down to what sort of country you want.  If you want perpetual servitude, by all means, scream for a deal.  If you want any hope of restoring the country, you must eschew the deal in favor of the fix, and the first step is Cut, Cap and Balance.  They tell us its dead in the Senate.  They can revive it with a simple vote.  Oppose anything else.  No other deals, and frankly, Cut, Cap and Balance should be only the start.

Until we can get a real leader in the White House, it’s the best we can hope to do.

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