Financial Deal to Give House Little Time to Act

The leaders of the US Senate are close to a deal that would push the financial problems of the federal government out a few months. And it is a deal that President Obama can live with. What the leaders in the senate are also doing is taking their time to leave John Boehner’s House of Representatives no time to consider amendments or other options. They don’t trust the Tea Party faction, and they aren’t entirely sure of Mr. Boehner’s ability to win GOP votes. By giving the House no time to reflect, the senate is offering a take-it-or-leave it option. The House will have to take it.

The Republican Party, as this journal has said for some time, is falling apart. The Reagan Coalition of moneyed interests, social reactionaries, small government libertarians and militarists is coming apart. The Republican caucus in the House is, quite simply, an unpredictable and dysfunctional body that probably couldn’t agree on the color of orange juice. Mr. Boehner’s ability to deliver 218 votes (a bare majority) on any given piece of legislation other than repealing Obamacare is always in doubt.

In America’s constitutional system (which is inferior to a parliamentary system when it comes to acting decisively), divided government was more or less built into the game. That, in turn, requires a give and take among the members of different parties, between the different chambers of Congress and among the different branches of government. The Tea Party’s unwillingness to compromise in any way is a threat to the way the government must run.

Compromise has become a dirty word on the American right when, in fact, it is at the very heart of self-government. Compromise means that there is something for everyone in the arrangement, and that means everyone has an interest in making things work. When compromise is impossible, the only alternative is unconditional surrender. That is only possible between two warring nations when one has an overwhelming military advantage. It is no way to run a nation.

That is not to say that betraying one’s principles in the name of political advantage is a good thing. Quite the opposite. Yet, there is a big difference between compromising on principles and compromising on tactics. The right in the US can’t see the distinction.

As a result, giving the House even a day to reflect is a day in which the dead-enders can rally the media and the belligerent yahoos to scupper an arrangement that the country, indeed the world needs. So, the leaders of the US Senate are going to take as much time as possible to deny the House members anything but a quick vote to save the nation or embrace a rapid default. They believe that the Democrats in the House will vote not to wreck the global policy. If things are tight enough, they know they can peel off enough pro-Wall Street GOP votes to pass the deal. The key is to give them no time to do anything but the right thing.

What is really shameful here is that whatever deal gets passed will have only a temporary effect. In three or four months, the nation may be right back here again. The only way to halt this kind of idiocy is to get rid of the debt ceiling once and for all (the only other developed nation that has one is Denmark, which has never come close to its debt ceiling) and to pass a law that allows for spending to continue at the same levels as the preceding year in the event a budget isn’t passed.

The reason these two ideas are stillborn is that they would be good for the nation but bad for the Tea Party’s ability to throw monkey wrenches into the machinery of government.