We’ve known all along there were two things Republicans dearly wanted. Indeed, these two things were most of the reason the debt ceiling “crisis” was ginned up.
First, they wanted Democrats to vote to cut Medicare. This was to take the sting out of the unpopular Ryan budget vote that promises to hurt Republicans in the 2012 elections. And second, they wanted a deal that guaranteed renewal of the Bush tax cuts.
Republicans failed to achieve either of these objectives. The final deal contained no new revenues, but neither did it promise away future revenues. And Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security remain untouched.
The question is, will they remain untouched, at least through the end of 2012? As you’ve probably heard, the “deal” includes formation of a special committee that will identify another $1.5 trillion in spending cuts. This committee must issue their findings by November 23, and Congress must give these findings an up-or-down vote, no changes allowed, by December 23.
If Congress fails to pass the recommended cuts, automatic spending cuts go into effect. Half of these cuts will be in the defense budget. The trigger â€œwould exempt Social Security, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families, and civilian and military retirement. Likewise, any cuts to Medicare would be capped and limited to the provider side.â€ Matt Yglesias has a chart showing how the non-defense automatic cuts would be distributed.
It’s not clear to me whether there are any restrictions on what the committee might recommend. However, the “trigger” deal is something like a mutually assured destruction pact. Michael Scherer writes,
If Democrats and Republicans do not agree to another $1.5 trillion in cuts later this year, then automatic cuts of about $500 billion in both national security and Medicare provider spending will be triggered, beginning in 2013. Republicans think the threat of cutting Medicare will force Democrats to bargain, and Democrats hope that the threat of defense cuts will force Republicans to bargain.
But what is really happening is something else: Both Democratic and Republican leaders have realized that they donâ€™t have enough political heft on their own to cut a deal. So they are pointing a gun to the knee caps of corporate lobbyists for the defense contracting and medical provider communities and saying, â€œHelp us, or else.â€
Be sure to read all of Scherer; it’s fascinating.
Of the initial $1 trillion in cuts that the deal does specify, the “good” news is that only (only?) about $22 billion of those cuts come out of 2012 spending. That might not make the economy noticeably worse before the 2012 elections, although it might not get noticeably better, either. This also leaves open the possibility –well, maybe more of a theory — that the next Congress could repeal this turkey before the bulk of it is in effect (see Nate Silver).
So, if progressive activists manage to not shoot the cause in the foot by spending the next year badmouthing Obama, and instead focus on electing a more progressive Congress, maybe some things can be turned around.
I suspect the political fallout of this mess will do neither party any good. Democrats are disgusted, but so are a lot of Republicans. Both the True Believers of the Tea Party and the hard-core neocons feel sold out today. Jonathan Chait writes,
In other words, the members of the conservative coalition looked around and decided to eat the defense hawks. …
The result, at the risk of spoiling your enjoyment, is that Kristol is not happy. Quite the turn of events. Here was Kristol, loyally serving the party for years on end, including its monomaniacal hatred of taxes, in the belief that this would give him a veto in the one corner of policy he actually cares about, defense and foreign affairs. KristItol was happily chortling along with the party’s plan to hold the entire economy hostage to its demands to slash spending and hold revenue low, confident all along that this couldn’t impact the $700 billion a year we spend on defense. And then, wham, before he knew what was happening, the hostage was out of the closet he was helping guard, and he was standing in his place with duct tape around his wrists. Funny how that works.
This puts Dems in an interesting position. If they make ending the Bush tax cuts for the rich a condition of voting for the committee recommendations, the entire GOP might find itself duct taped —
Then what? Well, then the entire defense lobby plus the entire medical and insurance lobbies turn fiercely against the very people with whom they had marched shoulder-to-shoulder under Bush. If the Democrats hold the line and insist on more revenue, the committee has the potential to split the GOP coalition wide open.
A lot will depend on what the committee recommends, of course. The point is that while the deal stinks, there’s a potential here for Dems to regroup and strike back, if they are willing to do so. My advice to progressives — like they ever take it — is to stop whining about Obama and focus instead on Congress.
Stuff to Read —
Kevin Drum, “It’s Public Opinion, Stupid.” I especially liked this part —
This is why I blame the broad liberal community for our failures, not just President Obama. My biggest beef with Obama is the same one I had three years ago, namely that he’s never really even tried to move public opinion in a specifically progressive direction. But that hardly even matters unless all the rest of us have laid the groundwork. And we haven’t. Wonks, hacks, activists, all of us. We just haven’t persuaded the public to support our vision of government. Until we do, the tea party tendency will always be more powerful than we are.
See also George Monbiot, “A Billionaires’ Coup”