Thursday, December 12, 2013

Quasi-Kum Ba Yah on Capitol Hill

THANKS TO a bipartisan budget agreement reached on Tuesday, one that just might result in the first U.S. budget since April 2009, the schism within the Republican Party only hinted at before — name-calling, spats and relatively minor squabbles — has finally jumped the shark into outright internal warfare.

With rank-and-file Republicans willing to support the deal (holding their noses if necessary) and various deep-pocketed outside agitators more than willing to oppose it, heads is truly tails in the 113th Congress, as rock-ribbed members of the GOP have been castigated for daring to actually do the people’s business. Steve Schmidt observed on MSNBC: “Now Paul Ryan is a RINO all of a sudden.”

The agreement reached by Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democrat Patty Murray of Washington state, Ryan’s equal member in the Senate, sets government spending at $1.012 trillion for the current fiscal year, which runs through September, and $1.014 trillion for the next year. The deal is a bid to prevent another government shutdown; the last one, in October, lasted 16 days and was a fat, noisy embarrassment to the Republicans who brought it on.

The Ryan-Murray agreement would eliminate about $45 billion from planned sequestration cuts set to take effect in January, and trim the deficit by about $23 billion. But nowhere in the deal is there any provision for extending unemployment benefits for about 1.3 million Americans — the long-term unemployed.

Cue the Rolling Stones: “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

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It’s a solid-waste sandwich for all concerned, and everyone gets to take a bite. That’s the takeaway from the measure, with something to like and dislike for all concerned. That's a working definition of compromise.

Introducing the measure alongside Murray on C-SPAN, Ryan described it as “a budget agreement that reduces spending without raising taxes” at the same time it blunts the impact of the sequester’s “arbitrary, across-the-board” cuts.

“This agreement makes sure that we don't have a shutdown scenario in January, it makes sure that we don't have a shutdown scenario in October. It makes sure that we don’t lurch from crisis to crisis,” he said. “This also shows that we can work together to get our government functioning at its very basic levels.”

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MURRAY AGREED. “For far too long here in Washington, D.C., compromise has been a dirty word when it comes to the budget,” Murray said. “We have broken through the partisanship and gridlock and reached a bipartisan agreement that will prevent a government shutdown in January [...] and roll back sequestration cuts." Murray said the agreement enforces the idea that "sequestration cuts shouldn't be replaced by spending cuts alone."

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart riffed brilliantly on the physical space between Ryan (6-foot-1) and Murray (5-feet even). “These two members of Congress who did the deal are literal visual analogues for how the two sides cannot see eye to eye!” he said. “They are a life-size bar graph of the fiscal distance between the parties!”

The appearance of Ryan and Murray, optically speaking, was a turning point in itself. Regardless of their physical height, you had to do a double take, seeing a Democrat and a Republican at the same podium at the same time in this Congress. Progress comes in all shapes and sizes.

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The deal found a champion in House Speaker John Boehner, who revealed on Wednesday that the scales had fallen from his eyes.

Like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who expressed his own exasperation with conservative outlier troublemakers last week, Boehner stepped to the microphone and took dead aim at big-money organizations — Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth, Freedom Works, Heritage Action — that are using Gestapo-spank pressure tactics to threaten House Republicans on budget matters.

Witness the exchange between Boehner and CBS News congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes:

Cordes: Mr. Speaker, most major conservative groups have put out statements blasting this deal. Are you worried that —

Boehner: You mean the groups that came out and opposed it before they ever saw it?

Cordes: Yes, those groups. Are you worried that —

Boehner: They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals. This is ridiculous.

This morning, Ryan said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that naysayers’ press releases “came flying out” opposing the deal “before Patty and I even reached an agreement.”

C-SPAN reported that the House is expected to begin debate on the measure today; House Democrats are said to uncommitted until the sensitive matter of unemployment benefits gets a hearing; the early betting line is that 1.3 million Americans won’t have much of a Christmas this year. Cue the Rolling Stones again.

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IT’S POSSIBLE that after this quasi-Kum Ba Yah moment passes on Capitol Hill, the new year will begin with new dark threats of scoring Republican votes from the professional obstructionists led by the Koch Brothers and Jim DeMint, the Heritage Foundation chieftain ... and a return to the interparty gridlock we’ve gotten used to.

Case in point: Marco Rubio, the Florida GOP senator making presidential noises, released a statement that was down on the deal almost the moment it was released (and maybe before). “We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good paying jobs, and this budget fails to accomplish both goals, making it harder for more Americans to achieve the American Dream,” he said in a statement reported by Talking Points Memo.

“Instead, this budget continues Washington’s irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans.”

For now, for the moment, and Rubio’s indignation aside, the lion breaks bread with the lamb, or something like that. There’s a glimmer of bipartisan hope on the Hill. We’ll see where this goes. And where it doesn’t. Democrats have found some common ground with Republicans; now we'll see if Republicans can find common ground with Republicans.

Image credits: Ryan and Murray: © 2013 Comedy Partners/Comedy Central. Club for Growth logo: © 2013 Club for Growth. Rubio: CPAC via You Tube.

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