Michael Gerson, the former Bush speechwriter turned Washington Post columnist, describes the landscape in Washington pretty well here:
“Obama’s offer is more than reasonable. A $30 billion reduction, after all, was the initial Republican negotiating position back in early February. Given that Republicans control only the House, this level of cuts would normally be viewed as a remarkable success. But a portion of the Republican conference longs for a confrontation that results in a government shutdown, preferring a fight over a victory. And the only worse outcome for Boehner than a politically risky shutdown is a deeply split conference, pitting the Republican establishment against Tea Party purists — a result that would undermine all future Republican progress.”
The Republican base wants and needs a confrontation with Obama, not a compromise. It has sought that outcome from the beginning, and it will not be denied that satisfaction. As Gerson points out, the Republican leadership itself set a goal of $30 billion in cuts, and it could achieve $33 billion at this moment simply by saying yes.
But it’s not about getting to yes. It’s about getting to no. Once Obama agreed to $33 billion, the GOP demand became $40 billion. Those additional billions means absolutely nothing in terms of the long-term deficit, but everything to a party hell-bent on a shutdown. It is a means to an end.
By now, Obama ought to be onto that game. He knows that if he agreed to $40 billion, the GOP lust for a shutdown, still unsatiated, would merely shift to the next opportunity, which isn’t far away. We’re now just $80 billion away from hitting the nation’s legal debt ceiling, and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner warns we will reach that limit no later than mid-May. That would become the opportunity for confrontation, but with much higher stakes for the country given the financial and fiscal consequences of possible default.
So here we go. This isn’t about dollars or deficits. This is about a group of people seeking moral validation through battle against the forces of evil; put more crudely and perhaps accurately, it’s about people picking a fight with somebody they hate, somebody they’ve wanted a piece of for a long time.
It appears they will get their wish.
– Jay Bookman