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October 17, 2013 12:47 PM Two Dissenters from the Democratic Joy Division

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday I labeled myself as semi-enthusiastic about the outcome of the manufactured fiscal crisis, offering “two cheers” for the Democratic SWAT Team that freed the twin hostages of appropriations and the debt limit increase.

It might be wise for a moment to listen to two progressive voices that were far less enthused. One, Felix Salmon, mainly wants everyone to realize the Tea Folk aren’t going away:

[A]s a feeling of relief courses through Washington and the markets, let’s not get carried away. Yes, as Jonathan Chait says, it’s very good news that the House Republicans’ plan collapsed. But the can hasn’t been kicked very far down the road: we’re going to hit the debt ceiling again in just a few short months. And at that point, one of two things will happen. Either the Republicans, licking their self-inflicted wounds from the current fiasco, will quietly and efficiently pass a bill while getting nothing in return. Or, in the spirit of “if at first you don’t succeed”, they will try, try again….
The point here is that the zombie army, a/k/a the Tea Party, is a movement, not a person — and it’s an aggressively anti-logical movement, at that. You can’t negotiate with a zombie — and neither can you wheel out some kind of clever syllogism which will convince a group of revolutionary nihilists that it’s a bad idea to get into a fight if you’re reasonably convinced that you’re going to lose it…..
Yes, the President has won an important battle against the zombies. But while it’s possible to win a zombie battle, it’s never possible to win a zombie war. No matter how many individual zombies you dispatch, there will always be ten more where they came from. The Tea Party doesn’t take legislative defeat as a signal that it’s doing something wrong: it takes it as a signal that nothing has really changed in Washington and that they therefore need to redouble their nihilistic efforts. Take it from me: come February, or March, or whenever we end up having to have this idiotic debt-ceiling fight all over again, the Tea Party will still be there, and will still be as crazy as ever. A bruised zombie, ultimately, is just a scarier zombie.

I don’t buy the “nihilism” bit about the Tea Zombies—er, I mean Tea Folk—but it’s true extremists with an elaborately radical agenda they are willing to fight for over time can be as intransigent as any “nihilist.” So Salmon’s prophecy could well be right.

Another writer who takes the Right’s policy goals seriously is Peter Beinart, and his pessimism over the Debt Deal involves how many of them he thinks conservatives are actually achieving, mainly by once again moving the goal posts:

In a memo to fellow Republicans on September 6, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor boasted that by “signing a CR at sequester levels, the President would be endorsing a level of spending that wipes away all the increases he and Congressional Democrats made while they were in charge and returns us to a pre-2008 level of discretionary spending.”
For their part, Democrats bristled at the prospect of a “clean” CR. Four days after Cantor’s memo, the Democratic-aligned Center for American Progress warned that by extending the sequester, Republicans were “trying to lock these additional spending cuts into place and create a new baseline from which future negotiations must begin.” CAP added that “It’s easy to see why this approach would be attractive to Speaker Boehner; it is much harder to understand why any progressive or centrist would support such an approach.”
Let’s pause for a moment to underscore the point. In early September, a “clean” CR—including sequester cuts—that funded the government into 2014 was considered a Republican victory by both the Republican House Majority Leader and Washington’s most prominent Democratic think tank. Now, just over a month later, the media is describing the exact same deal as Republican “surrender.”
Partly, that’s because of Ted Cruz. Starting last month, as we all know, the Texas Senator—in conjunction with his fellow Tea Partiers in the House—forced GOP leaders to abandon the very “clean” CR proposal they had once championed. The new Republican position became no funding for the government and no increase in the debt ceiling without the defunding (or at least delaying) of Obamacare.
Now that Republicans are backing off those demands, the press is saying they’ve caved. But that’s like saying that the neighborhood bully has caved because after demanding your shoes and bike, he’s once again willing to accept merely your lunch money.

Actually, Democrats have only accepted sequester-level appropriations until January 15, but it’s true they have zero guarantee they’ll be able to do anything about it in the upcoming negotiations without making even more damaging concessions, while Republicans continue to refuse to budge on taxes. And I’d add, as I did yesterday, that all the happy talk about refusing to negotiate with hostage-takers ignores the inconvenient fact that budget negotiations being undertaken under the implicit threat of another shutdown or debt default are precisely what were agreed upon yesterday. No, Democrats did not make unilateral concessions to resolve the late crisis, but that may be in part because Republican demands up to the last minute were so outrageous. And let’s also don’t forget that up to the last minute the MSM and a significant chunk of public opinion had long settled on the argument that “both sides” were at fault and thus “both sides” should make concessions.

In any event, Salmon and Beinart make arguments that shouldn’t be simply dismissed in the desire to claim a famous victory.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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