A number of video games have a morality system which encourages you to play the game twice, the first time as a Good Person who responds to the apocalyptic threats like a normal person, the second time as an Evil Person, messing with the game for lulz, because after all, they’re all just pixels. It’s evident that the House GOP is attempting to govern in this way.
I’m not going to give a play by play, both because the political blogs do that better and because positions change with such kaleidoscopic speed and illogic that no one really knows where we’ll end up, except that it’ll be bad. Now hopefully Obama won’t give away the whole store, but assuming a deal is made at all, it’ll function as an austerity program, a fucked-up version of what is already being tried– and is failing– in Britain. In other words, what we’re seeing is the crew of the Titanic debating on how fast they can run into another iceberg.
The mechanisms used to get there are perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the whole horrible drama. The spectacle of Boehner desperately bargaining with his own caucus to pass his own bill is almost comic, highlighting the strange tightrope that he has chosen to walk: he knows perfectly well that there’s no use passing a bill that can’t pass the Senate and Obama’s desk, but he may lose his job if he doesn’t do just that. The fact that he had to keep delaying a vote and throwing in sweeteners doesn’t suggest that the episode has strengthened him.
The whole debt ceiling stuff is ridiculous as well: Congress has already passed a budget that mandates certain spending levels; if it refuses to authorize the borrowing to get the money, it’s simply contradicted itself. There’s a perfectly good legal argument that Obama should simply gravely shrug and ask the Supreme Court which set of laws to follow. (One of the more amusing proposals is that he should use his law-given authority to mint a couple $1 trillion platinum coins. Strange but legal, and better than a default.)
None of this has a thing to do with the deficit, something the Tea Party doesn’t give a single tea leaf for. They didn’t support Clinton when he balanced the budget; they didn’t oppose Reagan and Bush when they ballooned the deficit; they resolutely oppose any increase in revenues to undo Bush’s disasters. They only really care about one thing– keeping taxes low– though they are happy to attempt to destroy all social spending and most other government functions in order to do it.
And if they’d won the Senate and the Presidency they could certainly go and do it. They’re essentially gambling that they can force a crisis to get their way on everything. I don’t think Obama’s quite so dumb as to let them do it; I’m fairly confident Harry Reid isn’t. So what’s their Plan B? The usual recourse after asking for the stars is to settle for the moon. But they’ve got themselves so fired up that even a compromise that moves the country far in their intended direction (that is, smaller government and a new Great Depression)– i.e. all of the plans already on the table– are unacceptable to their base.
Also keep in mind that for all the talk of Grand Bargains, nothing that’s decided this year (if anything is) will last past 2012. None of the parties involved can force anything on future Congresses, even their own future selves. (I don’t for a minute believe that if the Republicans won big in 2012, they’d implement Ryanism or Randism. They’d cut taxes and run up the deficit again; it’s what they do. They’re only against gummint spending now because they’re not in charge of it.)