While at least several horses of the next fiscal apocalypse are saddling up in their stalls, today’s news headlines report, “House G.O.P. Backs off Plan, Leaving Fiscal Talks in Limbo.” (Actually, to be theologically correct, they may be on their way to the opinion survey version of Hell, though paved with good intentions…)
The recent weeks of the federal government’s partial shutdown and imminent maxing out on its debt-limit credit card have been a mix of misguided tactics, misreading of public opinion, and even larger deficits of both leadership and followership in the House GOP.
Let’s just say that neither the professionals nor the amateurs have distinguished themselves, either in the initial demands last month to defund Obamacare or else…or the reciprocal refusals by the White House and Senate Democrats to accept subsequent terms of capitulation. It turns out that taking yourself hostage and threatening to shoot yourself does not provide much bargaining leverage (even though it once worked for Cleavon Little as Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles).
Although this morning’s resistance by many House Republican members suggests that they remain prepared to remain angry and hold their breath until their home states turn Blue (or at least Purple), they might want to consider at this late moment an alternative to (political) suicide or surrender: When you are losing on substance, change the topic to procedure.
Although too much ground has already been lost to make a last-ditch switch in tactics more than a very long shot, here’s how a different type of roll-the-dice counteroffer might have been offered earlier this month:
Hill Republicans would agree to reopen the government in return for clear-the-decks voting to amend Obamacare — later this October. That would mean it’s mutually agreed to take up a fairly long, but not unlimited, list of amendments by EITHER side (which could include full repeal, but, for example, also delay in the individual mandate and a host of unresolved housekeeping anomalies in the Affordable Care Act’s mangled text) under an open rule in the House and a pre-negotiated amendment vote-arama in the Senate (i.e., a bipartisan leadership pact to bypass 60-vote thresholds for cloture or supply the necessary votes to overcome budget process points of order).
Each side, for a change, would remain at risk. Who knows what an unfettered majority in either house of Congress might actually support (they rarely are allowed to do so these days). Republicans would get a shot at picking off 5 Senate Democrats on at least some politically difficult choices, and House Republicans would have to keep Senate Democrats from making Obamacare even worse. (Yes, the latter can be done!). Of course, President Obama would be likely to reject most changes in the ACA, but in this case, he would actually have to veto proposals supported by both houses AND the public.
The broader argument to the public would be that the current majority view in US politics, not just the temporary one back in March 2010, should be allowed to weigh in again; particularly now that they have a better idea of the mess they are facing. Who is afraid of majority rule? Perhaps just about everyone currently in office in Washington?
The likelihood is that not a lot in the current law would change. However, we might have a more open and wide-ranging debate instead of the usual posturing and hope that the most effective extortion artists can extract limited concessions in backroom deals. And then it might dawn on everyone that elections matter more than fake drama, with the next one little more than a year away.
Focusing on how to change voting numbers, in order to change the ones in the federal budget, would be a more productive long-term strategy than the current approach of manufactured drama destined to leave Obamacare opponents, at best, sulking away with little if any chump change in return.
“Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.” ― John Greenleaf Whittier