I have to rescind my assessment last night that John Boehner got nothing out of the late negotiations on the 2011 budget. Apparently, he won the restoration of a ban on the District of Columbia spending its own money to help poor women obtain abortions. President Obama and the Democrats had lifted that ban earlier in his presidency, and now it is back. Boehner also won funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which spends federal money on private schools in the District. In addition to these concessions, there is another rider that was left unresolved. Will the DC government be able to spend money on a needle-exchange program? The answer will come out of negotiations between the House and Senate. So, it appears that DC Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton’s fears have been realized, as the District took the hit for a budget deal. It’s one more example of why they need voting rights and autonomy. For a ninety-percent Democratic city to have to suffer the indignity of being governed by a bunch of conservative Republicans (even in part) is intolerable. Having said all that, I am not impressed with the interpretation many progressives are taking on these negotiations.
I respect David Dayen, but reading his piece on this I have to shake my head. He confirms a lot of stereotypes by taking the position that government spending is “dollar-for-dollar” equal to economic stimulus. He says “I think you’ll find that the failure to put the 2011 budget to bed in the last Congress cost the economy $60 billion.” That assumes that the $60 billion in cuts would have actually been spent. A lot of it wouldn’t have been spent, or would have only been spent unwisely on projects or programs that were no longer needed or were not wanted. For just one example, $1.74 billion was cut from the Census Bureau, which won’t be needing the money until 2020. Just because money has been appropriated doesn’t mean it will, or should, be spent. And this process did a very efficient job of trimming all that kind of fat off the bone of our federal budget. It’s a complete stretch to say that every dollar cut was a dollar “removed from our economy.”
There is a problem with the assumption that government spending is good and stimulative and that government cuts are bad and hurt the economy. It’s the flip-side of the Republicans’ absolutism over tax cuts. I’d like to see less analysis along those lines on the progressive side.
It’s true that the government can and should spend money to create jobs while the private sector recovers its strength, but any possibility that it would do so during this Congress was ended on election night last November. No amount of rhetoric or pressure by the president, by members of Congress, or by progressive media can change that basic fact, so blaming the government for not injecting new stimulus is pointless. The president’s job is to do the best he can with the cards on the table, not to try to manufacture ponies and unicorns out of his ass.
I notice a lot of commenters here are taking the position that the Republicans came out ahead in these negotiations. In a certain basic sense, they did. But most of that was baked in the cake the moment they took over the House by gaining an historic 63 seats. Despite all the angst over the slashing of discretionary spending (this was the biggest one-year cut in history), this battle was over a tiny sliver of the overall budget. The big battles over entitlement spending loom on the horizon, and the Republicans expended a tremendous amount of political capital to get a very small victory. You can count on them to threaten a government shutdown at least two more times this year. First, they’ll threaten to default on our debt, and then they’ll threaten “no deal” on the 2012 budget. They were wise enough not to close the government on the first and smallest fight, but they’ll pay a higher political price every time they hold the government hostage.
We all complain about the Democrats’ lack of unity and fighting spirit, but they finished these negotiations completely unified and on message. Yesterday was the best performance by the Democrats that I’ve seen in years. They blistered the Republicans for wanting to shut down the government to prevent cancer screenings and breast exams, and they did it in a very bold and coordinated way. It showed the power of the presidency when he decides to draw a line and he actually has the undivided support of his party. They were well-prepared for a government shutdown, and that bodes well for later battles.
Like it or not, we’re going to be in mortal combat with these assholes for the rest of our lives, and yesterday we delivered one of the best ass-kickings I’ve seen since 2008. As for the president, he’s playing up the cooperation and the “bipartisanship.” That was one of his core messages during his campaign. Progressives hated it, but it helped him get elected because it appealed to a lot of people in the middle. When you’re in the trenches fighting Republicans, the president’s happy-talk can seem naive or even like straight bullshit. It’s not. It’s just politics. You can safely ignore it, admire it for its dexterity, or let it annoy the crap out of you, but it doesn’t really matter.
Overall, I think the president did well and helped his reelection prospects. I don’t like the concessions in the District but it wasn’t worth shutting down the government over them. The real fight for DC is for autonomy and full voting rights in Congress, and we can restore the situation the next time we control both houses of Congress.
My one piece of advice on all this is that if you keep expecting the impossible you are going to be perpetually disappointed and unhappy.