July 23, 2013


Allow me to translate: Using the fact that the sequestration is causing so much pain in the world outside D.C., Obama hopes to leverage said pain to get the most stubbornly resistant Democrats to support his Faustian grand bargain. We already know he's been working to get enough Republican senators lined up, and this is the Wall Street-friendly legacy he's focused on:

Over the past six months Washington, D.C. has settled into an unexpected and uneasy stasis on economic policy. After Republicans accepted some tax increases on the rich in January, they managed to delay a debt-ceiling showdown and a government shutdown — something many thought House conservatives would force. Then sequestration went into effect, which wasn’t supposed to happen, and Republicans decided they kinda liked it. Then the deficit began dropping like a rock. And then Congress simply moved onto other things, like immigration and doing nothing.


The expectation in Washington is that this quiet truce will continue. That’s not the Obama administration’s expectation, though. The fall will bring another debt ceiling increase as well as a deadline on funding the government. House Republicans might turn either or both of these into showdowns — whether their leadership wants them to or not.

If House Republicans force a showdown, then something will have to happen — just as it did in February 2011, and August 2011, and January 2013. Showdowns are how Congress legislates now.

The White House’s hope for a deal here doesn’t come from a speech. It comes from the Senate, where there does seem to be a breakaway group growing frustrated with House Republicans and more interested in White House dealmaking, where there are more Republicans whose top issue is defense (and thus more concern over sequestration’s ongoing defense cuts), and where the White House has spent much of the last six months assiduously strengthening relationships.

Will it work? Everybody agrees that the chances of a deal are not great. But in much the same way that the chances of a deal were overrated because budget talks got so much coverage before sequestration, they might be underrated now, when so much of Washington has come to believe 2013′s stasis is the new normal, rather than a brief interregnum from budget brinksmanship.

Again: It's very important that you continue to let your elected representatives know that a deal cutting Social Security and Medicare is a guarantee they won't get your vote. But ironically enough, it might be the extreme demands of the House teabaggers that keep our social safety net intact.

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