We’re Still Doomed, Continued

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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.

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30 thoughts on “We’re Still Doomed, Continued

  1. “Let it all burn, I don’t care anymore….”

    You brought it upon yourself. I won’t pull you out of the quicksand even to save my own life.

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  2. Can a clean CR pass? Assuming that all Democratic members vote for a clean CR, there are still going to need more than a few Republicans to vote for it. While many Republcians do not want a government shut down, few want to be seen voting with the Democratic Party. They might still refuse to play along.

    I think that passing a clean CR is probably the best possible solution because it was going to happen anyway. Its unclear what the Republicans would have or could have caved in on besides a Clean CR in the event of a government shut down hitting them in the face.

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    • A clean CR will Pass LeeEsq, there’re a ton of GOP congresspeople who are not in districts where they fear a right wing primary challenge. The difficulty has always been convincing Boehner to bring a clean CR to the floor for a vote. Once it’s there it should pass relatively easily.

      Now whether Boehner can keep his job if he brings a clean CR to the floor is beyond me to answer.

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  3. A clean CR can pass, but a clean – restoring back Sequester cuts likely won’t. Which means that Grover Norquist’s dream of shrinking the federal government to the point where you can drown it in a bath tub is still on track, albeit a slow meandering track.

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  4. I’m of mixed feelings on this Elias.

    Yes, it’s kind of an Obama cave, but not exactly. The congressional Dems have been agitating for the sequester cuts to be moderated (on the domestic side); the more witty GOP have been agitating for the sequester cuts to be moderated (on the defense spending side), the delusional GOP have been agitating for an ACA implementation delay of a year and the totally wingding GOP have been yelling for a total defunding or repeal of the ACA. Leaving the sequester cuts as is does represent a loss for the Dems but also a loss for the GOP so long as -all- the spending remains cut. Remember, mind, that the cuts exempted a lot of Dem priorities like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid etc. I can’t see leaving them as a clear GOP win, more of a wash.

    I join you in a certain exasperation with Obama’s conflict aversion but on the other hand a gov shutdown could have accidentally snowballed into a debt ceiling breach almost by accident. The two are very close together. If Obama can get the shut down off the table (and especially if he does so in a way that shows the Dem’s compromising and not demanding a reverse of the sequester cuts) then that positions his party and him as the adults in the room (especially if the Tea Party then jump on Boehner like a pack of rabid hyenas. That’d be a good position in to take the hard line on the debt ceiling limit which you and I agree Obama absolutely must unflinchingly do.

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    • Your second paragraph largely sums up my perceptions as well. Social Security and Medicare, untouched. With the ACA funded, Medicaid will be expanded (I expect more red states to cave as their for-profit hospitals lean on the state governments during the 2014 legislative sessions). By this time next year, the ACA will be that much harder to undo. Another year of the DoD funding that should force the military to actually make reductions that will be hard to undo (personally, I think this President would like to be responsible for some changes in the military mission).

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      • Your point on the military cannot be emphasised enough Michael. The neocons are furious about those cuts and they are apoplectic that no one seems to give a damn (inside their party or out) about them being furious.

        There’s a lot of not good in the sequester to be sure but there’s some useful medicine as well. Also as you very aptly note the ACA establishment is playing for all the marbles. If Obama’s administration can get the tracks laid down on the exchanges and get people signed up they’ll very quickly become a new third rail. Hell, in a few years it’ll be Democratic party operatives referring to it as “Obamacare” and GOP operatives uncomfortably calling it the ACA.

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      • I’m there with you on that fear but Obama has been burned and burned badly by how he handled things in 2011 and he’s a different man in a different position now.
        >He’s been pummeled by the GOP for much longer and I think he must be fully disabused now of his old candidate Obama new kind of politics shtick.
        >They’re trying to repeal a law put in place by a Congressional majority, a supermajority in the Senate and the Presidency using only a Congressional Majority and some screeching. That has to rankle his law professor side.
        >Obama has no more elections to worry about personally.
        >Obama’s party is signaling some serious “patsy fatigue” and it’d be a long cold couple more years if he alienates them.

        I just can’t imagine he’d buckle on the debt ceiling; especially not with the language he’s using.

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  5. I’d personally rather see Obama play hardball and let us hit a government shutdown this time around just to make a point. If he looks weak this time around, he may send the crazies the signal that they can roll him on the debt ceiling when it really matters. We need to reach the debt ceiling debate with both sides being 100% certain that hostage taking will not pay off.

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    • If there were a couple months seperating the two events I’d be pretty sympatico to this view Frog but they’re too close together. If the Dems get into a real brawl over the shut down and before their knuckles are even beginning to get good and bloody the debt ceiling will be here and will need immediate attending or everything goes to pot.

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    • Glad somebody said it. This post embodies the joke that is modern day liberal economic thinking (e.g., If government spends money it is good. The role of government is make work projects, etc.) We are not even talking about actually cutting spending, but rather the rate of growth of spending. Deeming what the sequester leaves behind as criminally low spending levels is the epitome of irrationality, and is delusional to say the least.

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      • We are not even talking about actually cutting spending, but rather the rate of growth of spending.
        Are we? Are you using inflation adjusted dollars and accounting for GDP and population growth?

        Just to give a simple example: If a program services 300,000 people and requires a budget of 10 dollars per person, that’s an outlay of 3 million. If, the next year, they request 3.5 million and you give them 3.25 million….is that a cut? A cut in the rate of growth? Or an increase?

        Depends — if the program now services 350,000 people, then a budget of 3.25 million — then you’re now spending less per person. That is quite logically a cut — and not just in governmental terms. Any businessman would tell you that if you increased profits by 250,000 dollars but your per-customer profits were down, well — he’d be asking some pretty sharp questions about why….

        But of course, that “embodies the joke of modern day conservatives who are comfortable ignorant of detail, application, nuance and of course real-world application”.

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      • To be fair to Elias, I really doubt he would agree that the spending he supports is simply “make work” spending.

        That is, I may not be on his side, but I’m not on your side, either.

        I’m the cheese, man, I stand alone.

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      • The cuts imposed were a political smorgasbord of badness. Everyone could blame anyone for everything. I just read a post from a liberal saying that the shooting in DC proved that cuts are a bad idea. thankfully, lots of liberals took the guy to task by pointing out that cutting military spending (at least!) is good policy. It just needs to be done in an intelligent way.

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      • Stillwater:

        It was Vincent Gray the moron mayor of D.C. that blamed the shooting on the sequester. He sounds like the Dems that ran around like chicken little claiming the world would end because of the sequester. The world didn’t end and Dems lost credibility.

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      • Here’s a quote from Swampland that the blog post (Balloon Juice,

        here was based on:

        A soon-to-be-released government audit (Now public, see update below) says the Navy, in an attempt to reduce costs, let down its guard to risks posed by outside contractors at the Washington Navy Yard and other facilities, a federal official with access to the report tells TIME.

        The Navy “did not effectively mitigate access-control risks associated with contractor-installation access” at Navy Yard and other Navy installations, the report by the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office says. Parts of the audit were read to TIME by a federal official with access to the document.

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      • Oops. Moderation!

        Justme, the comment stuck in limbo contains links to Balloon Juice and Swampland. Apparently, the accusation derived from a government audit of the procedures in place at the Navy installation.

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      • Stillwater:

        Gray made his comment on a TV interview that was widely reported on. Are you saying this report was the basis for his statement? Even if his statement was, if seems quite speculative and pathetic to bring it up in the wake of the tragedy. The real fault lies with whomever gave this guy his security clearance. Can’t Dems let one tragedy go without trying to exploit it?

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