Noam Scheiber, who’s been one of the leaders of what I’m jokingly calling the Doom Caucus (folks who think we’re headed for a government shutdown and/or debt ceiling breach), now says that a shutdown is much less likely. Hooray! One problem, though: he says this is the result not of Tea Party Republicans coming to their senses, but of the White House caving (again) and urging House Democrats to vote for a “clean” (i.e., Obamacare-funding) continuing resolution which, crucially, would maintain spending at current sequestration levels.
In other words, the White House is asking Democrats to save John Boehner from his own caucus and, in the process, lock-in spending levels that were designed to be unacceptable. All to avoid a government shutdown that nearly every poll indicates would damage the GOP considerably more than Democrats or Obama.
That’s pretty shitty. But here’s the best part: not only is the White House asking Democrats to sign-on to criminally low spending levels in “exchange” for not defunding Obamacare, it’s also raising the possibility that the Ultimate Confrontation Tea Partyers have been itching for won’t occur over a damaging government shutdown, but rather over an apocalyptic failure to lift the debt ceiling. So, to recap, House Democrats are being asked to make it easier for Tea Party Republicans to take us over the debt ceiling and in the process nuke the global economy. Good times.
What could possibly explain this? Well, I think there are two main components to the answer. The first is that Obama, as Kevin Drum argues, is far more comfortable with the sequester than are most other Democrats. It’s not his ideal policy, sure; but on the whole Obama’s more of a fiscal hawk than the rest of his Party, and he can probably live with these levels of spending if they contribute to the falling deficit. (Obama’s always been way more of a deficit fetishist than other Democrats, too.) Plus, as Drum notes, Obama gets to have his politically popular generalized falling deficit while at the same time blaming the Republicans for the politically unpopular specifics of the cuts.
The second component is admittedly more a product of some armchair psychoanalyzing, but I think there’s a clear track record to back it up. Namely, it is that Obama is simply conflict averse. Even when butting heads will quite likely redound to his benefit, the president wants to avoid disruption at nearly all costs. I think we should’ve all learned this during the fiscal cliff fight, when Obama had all the leverage he could ask for and still sought out a compromise. The guy just doesn’t want to take the plunge. But with a shutdown avoided and a Tea Party demanding another round of brinksmanship over the debt ceiling, he may not have any other choice.