House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), his Senate counterpart in Vice President Biden’s deficit reduction talks, have decided to walk out of the negotiations in response to Democratic insistence that meaningful deficit reduction cannot be achieved without tax increases. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in my experience mostly becomes indignant at the prospect of some good public service being achieved, was as fatalistic about the Republican leadership’s ability to control its caucus as ever: “President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit. He can’t have both. But we need to hear from him.”
Without the success of the deficit-reduction talks by early July or early August at the absolute latest, there will be no political support within the House Republican caucus for raising the Federal debt limit by another $2 trillion, enough to keep the Federal Government borrowing the money it needs to run between now and the end of President Obama’s 1st term. The United States would default on its sovereign debt, almost unavoidably causing a crisis of confidence within the financial industry less than 3 years after the last one. This credit crisis would likely prove more-fundamental, with a rise in interest rates and massive devaluation of the money supply that foreign investors wouldn’t want to hold anymore. And did I neglect to mention that, on top of this, the Federal Government, after all that worry in the 1st quarter of the year, would stop functioning?
Judging from the repetitive refrains from the deficit reduction talks the Republican understanding of compromise, apparently, is to be willing to discuss with the party of the executive and the upper chamber the terms on which they will give you everything you want. Their part in the compromise, so far as I can tell, is their admission that they are willing to work-out a deal with the other party to get what they want.
The benefits of the British parliamentary system–where there is no constitution, the upper chamber has little capacity to hold-up the business of the lower, and the head of the lower chamber’s majority party is also the head of government, essentially serving as executive for domestic policy–are cast in sharp relief at a time like this.
Again, as previously, the Liberal Ironist suspects that this is about the Republican leadership earning the trust of their party’s back-benchers and 80+ freshmen. The rationale seems to be that even political damage for their party won’t result in the loss of their Congressional majority, so they may as well “fight the good fight” in the eyes of their caucus, the chief threat to their own power being loss of their leadership position at the hands of skeptical colleagues rather than a backlash from the broader public.
President Obama should be asking himself at this juncture, What is the point of having power if petulant opponents are simply going to dictate terms to me? That’s right, I say he should call Cantor’s bluff. His response to Cantor’s indignant line-drawing on the 1 measure most-needed to get deficit-reduction talks back on track should be, “Enjoy your little temper tantrum. When it’s over, the adults will have worked-out some tax increases that we want you to have a look at.”
Our best hope at the moment is that Cantor’s recent gesture is akin to the time Saddam Hussein walked out of a meeting with Bill Richardson, then representing the Clinton Administration in talks. Richardson had been sitting cross-legged, allowing Saddam to see the sole of his shoe–a gesture of profound contempt in Arab culture. Once Richardson made it clear that he had intended no such disrespect (at least outwardly), discussions continued. If Cantor’s walkout of talks is merely popular fare, it is in very bad taste, but we all need some entertainment. If the House Majority Leader is really acting on his own motion, know this: The Vice President had been trying to take the helm in preventing a sovereign debt crisis, and the Majority Leader has just pushed him off of it. There is no one at the helm right now, and we are weeks away from a pretty ugly patch of rocks.