Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Time to end partial shutdown and negotiate

Here is my formula for ending the budget impasse: Republicans should relent on adding strings to the funding bill to keep open all of the federal government operations and should pass a "clean" continuing resolution (“CR”). For his part, the president should negotiate on legislation to raise the debt ceiling.

Let me elaborate.

The flaw in the Republican strategy to use the CR for big policy matters is that the GOP controls only the House, while the Democrats control the Senate and the White House. If holding up passage of a CR were a legitimate way to handle these spending bills, then we should only expect that the Democrats in the Senate and the president would also seek to use those vehicles to drive policy. Imagine debating something like card check or a more obtrusive EPA in the midst of a debate over how to keep the government open.
Since two-thirds of the levers of government are under Democrat control, it is hard to see how the Republicans' negotiating posture will drive conservative outcomes.

Clean CRs in the past have been modest ways to keep spending somewhat limited. Additionally, public opinion makes pretty clear that while both parties and the president are losing altitude, the Republicans are sinking faster. It is hard to see how the GOP would benefit if it puts the House at risk or its chance to control the Senate after next November's elections if voters think of closed national parks and furloughed defense workers when they think of the Republican Party. 

While there was a deal to "preserve" the 60-vote filibuster a month or so ago, in reality it is clear that the current leadership of the Senate only needs 51 votes to pass whatever it wants.

Given the new rules of the road, here is something for Republicans who want to repeal the federal healthcare law, aka “Obamacare,” to shoot for:  maintain control of the House, gain control of the Senate, win the White House and use the new precedent in the Senate to jam through conservative policy changes.

It’s important to note that had Republicans not spent the last two weeks fighting over the CR, the headlines would have been focused on the healthcare law’s broken online insurance exchanges. Instead of talking about closing the Grand Canyon, we could have been talking about the administration’s failure to get a website up and running in three years. Letting this dominate the headlines would have given Republicans real leverage to repeal provisions of the healthcare law as they go into negotiations on the debt ceiling.

And speaking of the debt ceiling, as Ariz. Rep. Matt Salmon put it on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” it is “ironic that the president would negotiate with Vladimir Putin [on Syria], but won’t negotiate with the Republicans in the House of Representatives.” We are almost $17 trillion in debt. When should the White House negotiate if not now?

Raising the debt ceiling is must-pass. Doesn't responsible leadership require both parties to use these votes to make some progress and at least chip away at what U.S. Chamber Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten calls the "most predictable economic crisis in U.S. history?”

We all know what the broad outline of a deal will look like: entitlement reform and some sort of tax reform that lowers at least the corporate rate with a broadening and loosening of exemptions. In the debt reduction area there already has been movement, albeit clumsily, by a budget sequester that is reducing spending and by ending a portion of the Bush tax cuts, which is raising revenue.

Let's find something that could be accomplished immediately. For example, both parties can find common ground on how to calculate Social Security inflation. The president has said this is something he supports, but only in the context of a bigger deal.

Our country may be heading to a bad place on October 17th if we default on our debt payments. Time to end the shutdown, Sen. Cruz. And it's time to negotiate, Mr. President.

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