Here’s the bottom line on the next budget showdown: There will be a deal – if Republicans can get over their “principled” aversion to compromise. If they want a deal, there is one to be had.
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent noticed earlier that some Republicans worry that budget negotiations are a “political trap” because Democrats might insist on tax increases. They have the same fears about the farm bill and immigration: Just entering into negotiations with Democrats, tea party radicals seem to believe, can end only with Republicans selling them out.
In reality, however, the budget situation is exactly the sort of thing over which two healthy parties should be able to reach agreement, even if the political middle in Congress has largely disappeared.
Among Republicans, the problem isn’t just hostility to negotiations, though that is a big problem. Republicans do not seem willing to do the hard work of articulating their priorities.
In terms of the budget, this would require acknowledging, first, that their budget numbers don’t add up and, second, that they can probably get deficit reduction or spending cuts or prevent any tax increases but that they can’t strike a deal if they’re unwilling to budge on all three. They need to prioritize.
This is an underappreciated part of what makes the GOP a “post-policy” party. It’s not just failure to, say, draft an alternative to the Affordable Care Act.
The partywide punt on policy is also about refusing to distinguish between aspects of the ACA that Republicans really hate and those that they only mildly dislike (or, to be really honest, those that they actually support). Even if one wants to compromise, it’s almost impossible for negotiations to work if those kinds of decisions can’t be made.
From everything that’s been reported, however, Democrats are ready to deal (small, big, whatever) if and when they have a partner. We’ll just have to wait and see whether they have one.
Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein blogs for The Washington Post.