Grab onto something, folks. I’m going to agree with Mark Thiessen (H/T: Harley):
Quick: What do Republicans want in exchange for ending the government shutdown? If you know the answer, congratulations — because Republicans sure don’t.
we’ve gone from defunding Obamacare . . . to delaying Obamacare . . . to delaying parts of Obamacare . . . to funding the government piecemeal without touching Obamacare at all. If Republicans have already conceded the defunding of Obamacare, what’s the point of keeping the government closed? Why on earth would the GOP pass “clean” bills to fund individual parts of the government but not the whole government?
This business of passing funding bills for little piece of the government has been driving me a bit crazy. In a rational budget process — even in a shutdown — you would carefully pick which parts of the government to fund. But it’s clear that the strategy has been to identify whatever parts of the government are getting the most complaints (NIH, park service, etc.), pass a tiny bill to fund them and then go on television to bash the Democrats for not assenting to it.
That wins the media cycle but it’s no way to run a government. It’s completely arbitrary. It means that we try to divert funds to highly visible things like the Park Service, which would be one of the last things I would fund right now. More, it encourages partially shutdown services to deliberately make things worse to get their funding restored. Gain Nortion, Bush’s former Interior Secretary, describes how the Park Service has a long history of deliberately inconveniencing people whenever their budget is threatened (this weekend, they have “closed” the Vietnam Memorial — which is a wall that anyone can visit 24/7). No doubt, the Administration doesn’t mind this sort of visibility. But by putting forward little bills to fund whichever government agency is making the loudest noise, the GOP is encouraging this sort of behavior.
Back to Thiessen:
It calls to mind the episode of “Seinfeld” where Jerry and George are coming up with an idea for a show to pitch to NBC — and decide it will be “a show about nothing.” That’s what this standoff has become — the Seinfeld Shutdown, a shutdown about nothing.
Thiessen, however, is not just throwing bricks. He has an alternative proposal: that instead of using the shutdown or the debt ceiling for leverage, the Republicans use the Budget Control Act (aka the sequester). Grover Norquist is on the same page:
I think the original plan for the Republicans was to move the continuing resolution past the debt ceiling and then to sit down with Obama and decide whether he would be willing to trade some relaxation of the sequester for significant reforms of entitlements. That was something Obama might well do. Democrats in the House and the Senate are very concerned about caps and limits in sequestration. Republicans could get significant long-term entitlement reform — all on the spending side, I’m assured by leadership — for some relaxation of sequester.
See, this is what an actual compromise would look like. The Republicans are running around saying Obama won’t compromise because he won’t delay or change Obamacare. But they are not offering anything in exchange other than not blowing up the government. A sequestration-for-entitlements exchange would be a real compromise, giving Democrats something they want. But it would still be a huge win for Republicans — a few billion in spending now for statutory changes in entitlements (e.g., chained CPI) that could save trillions down the road. Statutory changes in entitlements are an especially good thing because, unlike sequestration, they would be very hard for future Congresses to undo.
The thing is, our budget situation is a bit tricky right now. The FY 2013 deficit is below $700 billion and projected to fall more in the next few years. But starting around FY 2018, it starts ramping up again. The reason is entitlements — the wave of retiring Baby Boomers putting a strain on Social Security and Medicare spending.
(This long-term situation has, over the last few years, gotten a lot less horrifying by trillions of dollars. The reason is that healthcare spending has leveled off. Obama is trying to claim credit for this but he’s a bit hoist by his own petard. He delayed Obamacare until after the election both to avoid the political hit and to force the CBO to claim that it decreased the deficit. But those delays also mean the cost curve bent before he did anything. The reasons the cost curve has come down are mainly the down economy and the natural saturation of the healthcare market. I said years ago, when people were projecting that healthcare would eventually consume 2,634% of our GDP, that if something can’t be sustained, it won’t be. It couldn’t and it wasn’t.)
The time to strike on entitlements is now. The longer we wait, the harder it will be and the more dramatic the changes required. You reform entitlements and keep discretionary spending level and you will basically balance the budget within the decade without any further action. Cutting spending further will make the situation even better, but … further cuts will entail either cutting defense spending (which the Republicans oppose) or more discretionary/entitlement spending (which will not happen until the GOP wins an election; which will not happen until they show they can govern).
There are whispers that this deal may happen but it seems to be focusing more on yet another budget committee. But we’ve had eight — count ‘em — eight budget committees. We don’t need another one to tell us what we need. What we need is a deal.