Political Animal


July 05, 2011 8:40 AM What a ‘normal’ GOP might do

By Steve Benen

About a month after the 2010 midterms, the New York Times’ David Brooks reflected on the GOP’s willingness to accept any concessions on any issue. “[M]y problem with the Republican Party right now … is that if you offered them 80-20, they say no,” Brooks said. “If you offered them 90-10, they’d say no. If you offered them 99-1 they’d say no.”

That was seven months ago. In his column today, Brooks notes that the GOP’s obstinacy is becoming even more dramatic in the context of debt-reduction talks. Democrats have already accepted the hostage-strategy dynamic and made enormous concessions to congressional Republicans. Indeed, Dems have offered a deal in which 83% of a debt-reduction deal would come spending cuts, nearly identical to what House Republican requested a few months ago.

“If the Republican Party were a normal party,” Brooks notes today, “it would take advantage of this amazing moment.” In fact, the conservative columnist called this “the mother of all no-brainers.” And yet, because the GOP “may no longer be a normal party,” and Republicans “do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms,” failure is an option.

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.

Brooks went on to say that the conservatives who dominate the GOP “do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities,” “have no sense of moral decency,” and “have no economic theory worthy of the name.”

This is pretty tough language for a conservative columnist. Indeed, it’s the kind of language that can help change the conventional wisdom about the nature of the talks themselves.

As of this morning, it appears the White House is prepared to accept “tens of billions of dollars” in cuts from Medicare and Medicaid — the nature of the cuts are unclear — in exchange for Republicans accepting additional revenue. And in this case, “additional revenue” doesn’t even mean increases in tax rates, but rather, scrapping unnecessary (and unpopular) tax subsidies, such as the breaks that go to the oil industry.

Due entirely to their extremism and inflexibility, Republicans have already, in effect, won. They created the debate, established the goal, set the terms of the talks, and dictated what’s allowed on the table. Democrats have conceded away almost everything. The result is what Brooks calls “the deal of the century.”

If there were anything “normal” about today’s Republican Party, it would take yes for an answer. Alas, the GOP has been radicalized to the extent that “normal” is nowhere in sight.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • Maritza on July 05, 2011 8:48 AM:

    The "tens of billions" from Medicare and Medicaid are coming from Hospitals and other providers and NOT from beneficiaries.

    There will be NO benefit cuts in either Medicare or Medicaid.

  • Danp on July 05, 2011 8:54 AM:

    OK David. It's time to s**t or get off the pot. Do you now agree that Republicans are intentionally trying to tank the economy and the effectiveness of government for political advantage?

  • Ted from Baltimore on July 05, 2011 8:57 AM:

    I know this is far-fetched, but I'd like to believe that this is the outcome that the White House was planning on all along -- give the GOP almost everything they ask for, GOP says no, President goes around Congress for the good of the country and dares the House to impeach him.

    And at this point I'm praying that this is what happens. It sounds as though the concessions agreed to by the Dems so far are a nightmare.

  • bdop4 on July 05, 2011 8:58 AM:

    David Brooks: “[M]y problem with the Republican Party right now … is that if you offered them 80-20, they say no,” Brooks said. “If you offered them 90-10, they’d say no. If you offered them 99-1 they’d say no.”

    Me: “My problem with the Democratic Party right now … is that if republicans refused 80-20, they would offer 90-10. If republicans refused 90-10, they’d offer them 99-1.”

  • Sean Scallon on July 05, 2011 8:58 AM:

    "conservative columnist."

    A useless phrase if there ever was one. When is it going to sink in that this really has nothing to do with ideology and everything to do with class? Citing David Brooks, hell you might as well be citing Paul Krugman in most Tea-Partiers' eyes.

  • c u n d gulag on July 05, 2011 8:59 AM:

    Jesus, Republican sabotage must be getting pretty obvious if it dented a cranium as thick and dense as "Our Mr. Brooks'."

    Cue his 'Mini-me,' Douthat, to write something like it in a week or two.

  • BetweenTheLines on July 05, 2011 9:02 AM:

    They intentionally created the debt crisis, then they set the terms of the debate, established the goal, set the terms of the talks, and dictated what�s allowed on the table.


    andfrom rinsig. Capthcha grasps the fundamentals at play here. Rinse and repeat.

  • R on July 05, 2011 9:06 AM:

    Me: “My problem with the Democratic Party right now … is that if republicans refused 80-20, they would offer 90-10. If republicans refused 90-10, they’d offer them 99-1.”


  • SteveT on July 05, 2011 9:07 AM:

    If there were anything "normal" about today's Republican Party, it would take yes for an answer.

    And if there were anything "normal" about today's Democratic Party", then they would be the ones walking away from the negotiation saying "not just no, but HELL NO!"

    But alas, the Democrats will hang in there, desperate for any agreement, and eventually will accept a deal that's about 90 percent cuts for the poor and middle class and 10 percent revenue increases. But since this isn't an academic debate, the cuts that the Democrats will concede will have very real affects on the economy. Next Fall, just before the election, the stories will start coming out about retirees losing their homes or being kicked out of their nursing homes. And the unemployment rate will start going up and will be above ten percent by Election Day.

    And Barack Obama will be a one-term president.

    I keep begging for a journalist to tell me whether today's Republicans really are such ignorant morons that they actually actually believe in their own economic policies or they are such pathological liars that they will say anything to gain a political advantage.

    But maybe there's a third option. I remember the Smothers Brothers and how surprised I was to find out that Tommy Smothers, the amiable buffoon on stage, was actually the creative and business genius that made them what they were.

    Is there a member of the Republican leadership who is secretly Tommy Smothers?

  • bdop4 on July 05, 2011 9:09 AM:

    From the NY Times article:

    While details have yet to be decided, lawmakers and administration officials said they were seriously considering these proposals:

    1. Gradually eliminate Medicare payments to hospitals for bad debts that result when beneficiaries fail to pay deductibles and co-payments. Medicare reimburses hospitals for 70 percent of such debts after the hospitals make reasonable efforts to collect the unpaid amounts.

    2. Reduce Medicare payments to teaching hospitals for the costs of training doctors, caring for sicker patients and providing specialized services like trauma care and organ transplants. Medicare spends $9.5 billion a year for its share of those costs.

    3. Reduce the federal share of payments to health care providers treating low-income people under Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. The administration wants to establish a single "blended rate" for each state. The federal government now reimburses states at different rates for different groups of people and different services in the two programs.

    Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the senior Democrat on the Energy and Commerce Committee and an architect of Medicaid, said he was "very concerned" that this proposal would reduce the federal contribution to Medicaid and shift costs to states.


    I share the concerns of my congressional representative.

  • Brenna on July 05, 2011 9:09 AM:

    @Ted from Baltimore

    I don't like that idea because then you'll have the independents accusing Obama of overreaching again, abusing his power. I'm sure he doesn't want to resort to that.

    I was talking to my CFO Brother in law. The investment crowd believes the republicans won't default on the debt ceiling. I told him "I'm not so sure. The freshman teapots are genuinely crazy."

    Things are about to get intense in the next couple of weeks. Wallstreet and bankers should be leaning on the GOP hard. At least, if they don't want to lose a lot of their wealth.

  • walt on July 05, 2011 9:11 AM:

    How did this happen? This isn't "the deal of the century", it's an utter failure of our national purpose. When Congress uses procedural arcana to thwart the normal workings of democracy, the end is not merely nigh, it is the end.

    The failure had it roots in a system designed to reward rural states with disproportionate power. An advanced democracy cannot function when witless rubes, obsessed with their guns and white Jesus, turn representative government into the Gong Show. Those rubes used to vote for politicians who bought them a jug of moonshine. Now the politicians themselves are indistiguishable from the "local color" of our idiocracy. It's over.

  • Josef K on July 05, 2011 9:15 AM:

    Sure, the Republicans "won" this one the same way King Pyrrhus of Epirus "won" against the Romans in 280/279 BC. Hence the term "pyrrhic victory".

    Of course they won't need one more such victory to undo both themselves and the country; the markets are ready to panic right now. I likewise doubt the ability of McConnell and Boehner to deliver a "yes" vote, no matter what is offered by the White House and Reid.

    Basically everyone should start bracing for the worst here.

  • blondie on July 05, 2011 9:18 AM:

    Do you think the leaders of the Weimar Republic thought that the Nazis were "an odd protest movement that [had] separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of [their] nation?"

    (Yeah. I went there.)

  • sjw on July 05, 2011 9:29 AM:

    "Due entirely to their extremism and inflexibility, Republicans have already, in effect, won."

    Not "entirely": it's also because Obama is such a lousy negotiator and wimpy leader that he let the Republicans define the terms of the debate.

  • Bob M on July 05, 2011 9:36 AM:

    I agree with BetweenTheLines: "They intentionally created the debt crisis, then they set the terms of the debate, established the goal, set the terms of the talks, and dictated what is allowed on the table."

    Hillary Clinton was not being conspiratorial when she talked of a vast right wing conspiracy. Even-handed PBS has had programs on how the followers of Leo Strauss organized successfully to gain power. The other side want their ideas to run America, and are trying like hell to achieve it.

    This is not a trivial event that just came out of nowhere and will spin back to nowhere. It is a central conflict of large importance. I look forward with real anticipation to see how Obama will defeat it and what the future will bring.

  • slappy magoo on July 05, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Death by degrees. The Dems getting SOME concessions will still result in SOME suckitude. The GOP getting everything it wants will result in GLOBAL suckitude.

    I know the GOP has a bigger built-in bully pulpit than we do. But it's clear in looking at grass-roots efforts from the left in states like Wisconsin that a message that resonates with most of America and intimidates the right can be made without the equivalent of a Fox News/right wing radio noise machine. It's also clear that, in order for the Democratic Party to accomplish anything of value, they need to make the case, constantly that they need the Presidency, a solid majority in the House, and a supermajority plus in the Senate. Were they to hammer that point, constantly, we might not see those results in 2012, but we could conceivably see them in 2014, giving a presumed Obama 2nd term to undo a lot of this damage, and set in motion a change in the national mindset so situations like this can't happen.

    I know situations are more dire than this, and we need things to change sooner. But thanks to the obstructionism of the GOP, we're not going to get that. We can still fight to change hearts and minds in the Senate & the House, but we also need a plan in place to achieve those goals by 2014, put the fear of your God of Choice in the right who insist on putting the fortune of their party above the good of this nation.

  • Steve P on July 05, 2011 9:44 AM:

    But David Brooks is not a Republican. He's a RINO. Richard Lugar is being read out of the Indiana GOP by the Tea Party challenger, a state treasurer, for being a RINO.

    The only real Republicans left are walking with a bible under one arm and "Coin's Financial School" under the other. Their leaders--Grover Norquist, Paul Gigot, someone named Koch-- are standing in the cab with the throttle tied down, waiting to break through to a Galtian paradise.

    Doubtless there will be a softball field, and all the teams will play according to the Jimmy Piersall rules, in which every home run is ended by the runner crossing home, climbing the backstop fence and screaming "Is that good enough for you Pop?"

  • dcshungu on July 05, 2011 9:48 AM:

    That the Republicans have refused to take "yes" for an answer should make amply clear they are not interested in deficit reduction at all. After all, they have created deficits (to be cleaned up by the next Dem administration) every time they have been in position to. Their only aim in this hostage situation is to further their ideology, even if this means sacrificing the country's economic health and creditworthiness at the alter of the Norquist tax pledge insanity.

    It will help a great deal if we begin by just seeing this for it is...

  • flounder on July 05, 2011 9:53 AM:

    I'm afraid that the GOP is going to grouse and whine, yet eventually take this deal where they basically got everything they wanted. It will be called a big victory for Obama and his liberal socialist policies by the vapid press, even though it was really a victory for GOP slash and burn.
    Then when the economy double dips due to this slash and burn, Obama and his liberal socialist policies will get the blame.

  • The Fool on July 05, 2011 10:01 AM:

    I can't help noting that those "crazy" Republicans keep getting what they want.

  • Ted Frier on July 05, 2011 10:13 AM:

    I've just finished reading Francis Fukayama's magnificant new book, Origins of the Political Order, in which he notes that the collapse of nation-states, either through revolution or bankruptcy, is often caused by weak central governments being unable to gain an upper hand over rich and powerful aristocrats or oligarchs who carve out for themselves special privileges and tax immunities and then drag their nations down in a kind of suicidal death-spiral as the rich and well-born defend those privileges against the nation's own survival.

    The question of whether the Republican Party is any longer a "normal political party," to use David Brook's phrase, leaves out the possibility that the GOP may not be a political party at all, in the sense of "representing" certain interests, rather than simply being an extension of those interests, in this case America's ruling oligarchy.

    We frequently hear that the GOP is the wholly-owned subsidiary of Wall Street. But what if the GOP actually is Wall Street -- one and the same with America's oligarchy -- and like oligarchy's in the past obsessed with maintaining their own privileges and immunities no matter what the risks of doing that might be to their nation's own surivival.

    Republicans are able risk the country's future by rationalizing that preserving their own privileges entirely intact is no risk at all to the nation. Willful blindness provides its own immunity. How long did it take, for example, for the idea that Republicans could actually prevent the debt ceiling from being raised move from being an unthinkable fringe fantacism to a mainstream bit of Republican orthodoxy?

    At first everyone thought the idea was preposterous. But once the intellectual prostitutes at American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal editorial page get through with telling us that 200 years of inherited economic common wisdom was wrong about what happens when nations do not pay their bills -- that there were no ill consequences to be suffered for the nation defaulting on its debt -- then the issue was actually debated seriously.

    By my count, it only took about three weeks for the idea that the GOP might actually let the nation default move from the lunatic fringe to the conservative mainstream.

  • Stephen on July 05, 2011 10:14 AM:

    I remember when Republicans wanted to simplify the tax code and wanted to take the government out of the role of "picking winners and losers". Not anymore, I guess.

  • paul on July 05, 2011 10:16 AM:

    I blame the rise of bad economic teaching. Years ago, experimenters found that people with one year of economics courses under their belt would accept a 90-10 split (when the alternative was for both side to get 0), while people with no economics at all, or with several years of courses, would hold out for 70-30 or better.

    Combine "greed is good" with warmed-over badly-explained game theory, and you have the republicans.

  • Unstable Isotope on July 05, 2011 10:18 AM:

    I really see this Brooks column as giving more life to the economic sabotage argument that Democrats have been making recently. It will be interesting to see if this changes the tenor of coverage of the GOP. Will they go from being portrayed as "deficit hawks" to saboteurs?

  • Schtick on July 05, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Someone explain to me why I should vote anymore? The repubs are flushing this country down the toilet and the dimwits are giving them the water to put in the tank.
    Obama won't give them the keys to the car they drove in the ditch because he's given them a brand new electric car that doesn't need keys.

  • c u n d gulag on July 05, 2011 10:25 AM:

    Ted Frier,

    And you're right - about 3 weeks from unthinkable, to mainstream.

    What is unthinkable anymore?
    Unless you're talking about a rational, thinking Consrvative party in the USA.

  • Sue on July 05, 2011 10:39 AM:

    As a Minnesota state worker, I'm living the consequences of Republican policies. Republicans here were willing to throw 23,000 state workers on the unemployment rolls rather than raise taxes on folks with incomes greater than one million, and they show no signs of backing down. I'm not holding out much hope for resolution of the debt ceiling.

  • zeitgeist on July 05, 2011 10:39 AM:

    Sean Scallon: your class-not-ideology theory does not explain why this alleged populist uprising on the right goes to the wall for big corporate issues and interests.

    But back to my most frequent subject. . .

    Due entirely to their extremism and inflexibility, Republicans have already, in effect, won. They created the debate, established the goal, set the terms of the talks, and dictated what’s allowed on the table.

    sjw beat me to it, but it cannot be "entirely" the wingnuts' extremism that got us here. Obama, the Democratic political establishment, and most of all the Democratic leadership in Congress contributed greatly by not responding effectively, not messaging well - if at all, not using the tools of the deliberative bodies as well as the Republicans do, and not having any sort of plan, despite years of escalating crazy, to counter it in action.

    "extremism" has no agency; it cannot establish unilaterally the rules of debate -- especially in the Senate, where Democrats (allegedly) are in the majority.

    and I'll say it again: i've been putting off Obama fundraisers waiting to see this play out. if he gives them any lifeline at all to bail the R's out of their Medicare fiasco, it'll be a clear sign he thinks he is so far ahead he doesn't need my poor money.

    The public will never care nor understand the difference between cuts to hospitals and cuts to beneficiaries: the Republicans will spin it as Democrats agree to Ryan framework and cut entitlement spending -- putting our fingerprints on it and bailing the Republicans out. Medicare and Medicaid have to be a bright line test for any Democrat that cares at all about 2012.

  • Krowe on July 05, 2011 10:47 AM:

    Fox & Fiends was on in the Dr.'s waiting room - they were whinging about how Brooks is "not much of a conservative" because of this column. So I guess that's the definition of true conservative now - those who would abandon all negotiation, even positions that they themselves originally presented as resonable, even if it destroys the economy. Hopeless.

  • biggerbox on July 05, 2011 10:54 AM:

    The GOP has finally lost Bobo?

    Surely that must be a Sign of the Apocalypse.

    (Of course, his positions usually last about three days, so I expect his next column will contradict this one and support "strong" negotiations by the GOP...)

  • Unstable Isotope on July 05, 2011 10:57 AM:

    I think Bobo gave cover to Obama's invocation of the 14th amendment re the debt ceiling. The GOP will scream tyranny but Obama can point back to this very Brooks column to bolster his case. What's more important is that Brooks is very influential in the beltway media. I really think this is an important turning point.

  • majun on July 05, 2011 11:02 AM:

    Yes, I guess David Brooks did a little tough talking to the GOP idealogues today. I might have been impressed if he hadn't started out the column with these words:

    The Republicans have changed American politics since they took control of the House of Representatives. They have put spending restraint and debt reduction at the top of the national agenda. They have sparked a discussion on entitlement reform. They have turned a bill to raise the debt limit into an opportunity to put the U.S. on a stable fiscal course.

    Republican leaders have also proved to be effective negotiators. They have been tough and inflexible and forced the Democrats to come to them.

    In essence he started out by validating the hostage strategy as a legitimate negotiating strategy. It needs to be repudiated in the harshest terms by all right thinking Americans, and those who think on the left too for that matter. The GOP has become a criminal organization that is in the business of demanding ransom, they are not negotiating in any commonly accepted sense of the term. Once the remnants of the rational Right gets that through their thick skulls and begins to remove all legitimacy from the right wing wackos we can start to move forward. Till then, right wing wimps like Brooks, who still holds dear Reagan's 11th Commandment, are just enablers of gangsters and thugs.

  • bigtuna on July 05, 2011 11:09 AM:

    I know the dems have already capitulated - the "negotiation" in my mind, should still be focused on a clean bill, no "budget cuts" as the Dem position. Sigh.

    I talked with someone who said that game theorists say that in many negotiations, the best strategy is to make a reasonable initial offer; if the other side counters with a reasonable offer, they you keep discussing, and come to an agreement.

    However, if the first offer is met by a non serious, crazed, or otherwise bad faith offer, you counter with a less conciliatory offer. That is, move away from, not towards, the other side. Again, too late, as dems are giving away the store, but interesting concepts ... As long as the other side does not move, you either stay put, or move away. Then you can always say " well, we came to the table with a reasonable offer, and they wouldn't take it "....

  • ohhenery on July 05, 2011 11:45 AM:

    David Brooks and allies (____) thought they could do the hokey pokey with the far right. What they don't understand is that the far right doesn't believe in dancing, and by god, they will impose it on everyone.

  • Zorro on July 05, 2011 12:10 PM:

    If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

    OK, a bunch of problems with this paragraph:

    1) It's when the debt ceiling talks fail, not if. Frankly, I'll be amazed if there isn't a default.

    2) "Independent voters" should be read as "people too dim to pay attention to what's been happening for the past 40 or so years." But that's too many words for the average American to read.

    3) The "responsible Republican" is the unicorn of today's politics.

    4) "Independents" will conclude nothing of the sort about the GOP, given that they've seen the GOP sing variations of this tune since '80 and kept electing them.

    5) If fitness to govern mattered worth a damn, would we have had, just off the top of my head, Presidents George W. Bush, Warren Harding, or Millard Fillmore?