July 31, 2011

#Debtmageddon: The wrap-up - surrender or willing hostage?

Couldn't say it better than Krugman, whose headline notes, "the president surrenders."

The nut graf is up front:
For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.
Krugman then spells out the details.

But, per the "surrender," realistically, as Krugman links, Preznit Kumbaya surrendered last December. Or, to go Krugman one harsher, Obama willingly let himself be taken hostage.

As Krugman notes in his column, Obama had options up until now.

That said, a Congress that acted with true fiscal responsibility, not just in promoting chaos and confrontation, but taking true ownership of budgeting, wouldn't have gone to this point.

Krugman is not the only opiner at his own paper to note the problems, whether with Obama not having the backbone of a chocolate eclair, the tea partiers' scorched earth or other things.

Guest columnist Jacob Hacker and Ross Douthat take their own runs at the problem.

Hacker says it's ultimately in part about Congressional abdication of responsibility.

This is a long quote that deserves being taken at length:
The two-step begins with a Congress that is hamstrung and incapable of effective action. The president then decides he has little alternative but to strike out on his own, regardless of what the Constitution says.

Congress, unable or unwilling to defend its role, resorts instead to carping at “his” program, “his” war or “his” economy — while denying any responsibility for the mess it helped create. The president, on the defensive, digs in further.

Take recent events in Libya. ... In a single day, the House voted down a resolution that would have approved the war and then, just hours later, voted down a bill that would have denied the president the power to spend any new money on the war. Not surprisingly, the war continues without a single Congressional vote to support it, and Congress’s power to authorize military action has taken a hit from which it may never recover.

The problem is not limited to war. ...

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency began regulating greenhouse-gas emissions at some energy plants and factories after efforts to address the problem through legislation stalled. Members of Congress were angry about the end run, but, predictably, they failed to do anything about it.

The ultimate consequence in each case is the same: Congress is saved from its inability to govern by being cut out of the process. Senators and representatives avoid taking responsibility for the most important decisions, and thus can’t easily be held accountable for poor choices.

Meanwhile, the president gets a poisoned chalice: increasing unilateral power, but reduced ability to share responsibility — or blame. Whether President Obama or members of Congress would bear the greater pain if the economy imploded because of a default is unclear. Either way, 535 legislators would have essentially gone AWOL.
But Hacker fails to note that Congress wants it that way. Take Libya. To riff on an old D.C. Village metaphor, Washington has 535 secretaries of state, besides the one in the cabinet -- but it has, at best, one Secretary of Defense, including the one in the cabinet.

Ditto on fiscal issues. Members of Congress, despite "denouncing" earmarks, still want to bring home pork. The way GOP members lined up at ribbon cuttings for local stimulus projects show that.

Krugman and Hacker both agree that government in general has been diminished by all of this, though. But Hacker's prescriptions are unrealistic in today's Congress and D.C., and Krugman is existentially skeptical enough not to offer any.

I halfway agree with Douthat's tenet, that Obama was playing the short-term angles. So, too was Boehner, thouogh, through not cracking tea party heads.

Unfortunately, Douthat only gets it half right on Obama:
The White House no doubt figured that this negotiating strategy would either lead to a bipartisan grand bargain or else expose Republican extremism — or better still, do both.
Obama then caved to that extremism, or per my riff on Krugman, became a willing hostage.

But, Douthat notes the tea party poisons wells everywhere:
In fairness, the president’s passive-aggressive approach is a bipartisan affliction. The ostensible front-runner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, took a deliberately hazy position on last week’s crucial House debate
But, Romney's looking past the primaries. He knows that to tack too close to the tea partiers is trouble in the general election. Obama apparently doesn't get that, either.

Speaking of that, the chattering class, inside the Village especially, is talking who won and who lost. Well, as Krugman and Hacker make clear, good governance lost long ago. And, of course, the American people lost. Held hostage by antitax zealots who reject expert insight on fiscal matters just as much as on global warming. Even the tea partiers lose, though they either don't know that or won't admit that.

I'm not linking to all the chatteratti, but I will note Ezra Klein gets one thing right; this was asymmetric warfare. Obama still doesn't get that one, I don't think. He certainly didn't get it last December. Of course, Ezra and other Village talking heads didn't, either.

Other losers include folks within the Progressive Caucus in the House. Obama's going to lean like hell on them, and lean on Nancy Pelosi to lean even harder. That said, maybe enough House tea party types will still oppose this that in conjunction with House progressives the deal could be blocked, but not likely.

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