I read a very incisive article by Jonathan Chait, as well as the articles from WAPO (10/10/13) which paint a picture of disarray on purpose and strategy, delusion as to what they think will force the Democrats to the table, and bewilderment at Obama's refusal to make a concession.
The cliff notes version goes like this:
- Paul Ryan has been the architect of the shutdown strategy for months (he was also one of the core people involved in plotting strategy to oppose Obama following his victory in 2008). Ryan simply refused to acknowledge or discuss any WH/Democratic budget proposal or request to form committees to meet in the expectation that he could threaten a debt limit default and coax ransom from Obama. He has been his usual haughty, arrogant self on this and has been supremely overconfident.
- Cruz and the Koch brothers hijacked the Ryan plan and got the tea party members galvanized on the idea of shutting down the government to stop Obamacare.
- Since the Cruz plan failed spectacularly, Ryan has been trying to re-seize control of the agenda with demands that talk about slashing entitlements but avoid mention of Obamacare. The problem is that Ryan has no credibility or any bona fides among Democrats as someone who can make compromises to get a deal. He has been singularly responsible for thwarting several prior deals.
- The tea party is not that interested Ryan's entitlement cuts. It doesn't get their juices flowing and surprisingly (based on tweets I read) some think those programs actually work fine. They're against Obamacare in particular because of all the Koch they snort about it being a job killing machine and the fact that Obama is black. This whole debacle has exposed the rift between the Gingrich era GOPers who want to use the tea party to fulfill Gingrich's dream of whacking new deal and great society era entitlements and the tea party, who are really just high on Koch and just want to oppose anything Obama is for, especially the ACA.
- GOP is considering a short term debt limit hike but Ryan is still trying to extract big entitlement cut concessions. There are other voices within the GOP who do not want the House Republicans not to carry out the debt limit threat. There is no mention of ending the government shutdown from the GOP leadership.
- Other articles I've read on Huffpost indicate that the GOP is surprised that Obama is standing so firm. He is not moved by the threats of blackmail. They don't believe it is sustainable, but given how they're now scrambling to rid themselves of the debt limit albatross, it seems as if the President's approach is being validated to a certain degree.
My observations below the fold:
The Republicans are coming to terms with the fact that their shutdown/default strategy is not going well. They are divided on whether to link the two, separate the two, relent on 1 but not the other, or keep attaching conditions.
Paul Ryan is the chief liar, bully and the prime mover of this default strategy. He is a man with no conscience and doesn't respect the will of the voters even after getting his ass handed to him in last year's election (big assist to Joe Biden who clobbered him in the VP debate). This strategy has been based on very flawed assumptions about Obama, flawed assumptions about how our system of government works, and an inability to understand how the political environment has changed. This 'new' idea of attaching entitlement cut concessions as a prerequisite to passing a temporary debt ceiling hike is ludicrous. He doesn't know how to negotiate without using threats and blackmail. He has lost the tea party over the last 2 months and his latest gambit isn't going anywhere. I'll bet you if there is 1 guy President Obama would love to punch in the face, it would be Ryan.
Boehner seems lost and almost non-existent in all of this. He doesn't seem involved in strategy and doesn't even know what agenda to pursue. He tries to manage the Gingrich era faction and the tea party factions and isn't very good at any of it. Truly hapless. I suspect that the unnamed sources who are trying to stave off a debt ceiling default include Boehner. I think Boehner would like nothing more than to release the hostages and get control of Ryan, but he doesn't have the power or the political will.
Cantor is a shadowy figure who doesn't commit to anything. I get the sense from reading Chait that he is aligned with Ryan, but he seems to dumb to me to really do anything meaningful. I think he feels he needs to stay close to Ryan and take advantage of his clout within the party.
It isn't clear how this will unfold, but I'll give it a try.
The White House and the Democrats are going to continue to keep the pressure up on Boehner and co regarding the debt ceiling and the shutdown. There is nothing to be gained from granting any concessions as a condition of lifting the debt ceiling and ending the shutdown.
The GOP's Gingrich era wing led by Ryan seems to want to continue threats on the debt ceiling but wants to use entitlement cuts instead of Obamacare. I actually believe Boehner is trying to avoid a default but hasn't corralled enough support to shut Ryan down. Obama is the one who is shooting holes in Ryan's strategy and exposing it for what it is.
The tea party is a bit of a ruse in all of this. They don't have the numbers by themselves to continue a shutdown or a default. It isn't clear to me that they want to continue a shutdown. They seem to really be chastened by the negative impact. They do like the idea of a default, but I think that's more histrionics because they're just angry that their approach isn't working. It is precisely because the Gingrich wing doesn't want to support another defund Obamacare gambit and the tea party doesn't want to support another cut medicare/social security gambit that Boehner will need Democratic votes to get anything passed.
I do not see how raising the debt ceiling but maintaining the shutdown is viable for the GOP. It would smack of elitism and they're getting killed in the polls for having done it. The Democrats are also not moved by the shutdown to give in anytime soon. It allows the Democrats to play the role of defender of the middle class every day that Boehner refuses to hold a vote on a clean CR. If he passes a debt limit increase but not a clean CR it further underscores the impression of the GOP as a party for the elites that desires to screw the middle class.
In short, Obama is going to win these first two phases of the budget debate. The debt ceiling is likely going to be raised and the political unpopularity of the shutdown is going to force the GOP's hand at some point. They're begging for concessions when they have no basis or leverage to get one. Once Boehner gives up the hostages he loses them forever.
During the budget negotiations, the GOP is going to find themselves further frustrated by the process. Unlike 2011, the Democrats won big in the most recent election and they will have the power and clout to get more of what they want done. Once the GOP loses the shutdown/default cards, any further attempts to threaten to do this all over again would be met with strong disapproval. It would be politically untenable. Then the divisions between the tea party and the Gingrich era GOPers will be exploitable. I don't think tea partiers will want to cut medicare or social security after having lost all of this political capital on ending Obamacare. Therefore, Boehner will once again need Democratic votes. Obama will likely offer tax reform as an alternative to entitlement cuts and the GOP will probably accept in order to get out of the hole they dug for themselves.