OOOH! Hardball! A Glimmer of Hope. Boehner Sings Sakura Softly as His Zero Banks Toward The Battleship…

So Obama decides to play hardball – refusing to accept a debt ceiling raise without an end to the shutdown.  It was the obvious position to take, but not a given based on Obama’s record of compromising with himself.  Why the obvious position?

  • The Republicans have already half caved.  Why not just wait until they fully cave?
  • Obama can make a reasonable-sounding (and actually reasonable-in-fact) argument – “If this is just a short-term solution, why not apply it to the government too?”
  • There are precious few reasonable arguments for keeping the government shut down.  Not that there ever were.  But he can always hope the wackos keep being loudly unreasonable, dragging the Republican brand deeper into ignominy.
  • If push comes to shove, you can probably count on Boehner passing something in a last-minute panic vote involving a majority of the House Democrats.

Looking to November 22, there is a glimmer of hope for a major breakthrough.  For the “reasonable adult” members of both parties.  For the nation as a whole.  Oddly, the hero of this moment would probably be John Boehner.  Too bad he’ll have to Kamikaze to do it….

The “Grand Bargain” of 2011 is still on the table.  Dusty and a little shopworn, but still there.

  • Think back to the “Grand Bargain” that almost happened before the last debt ceiling crisis.  Yes, the one that Boehner backed out of because he couldn’t deliver the (Republican) votes in the House.
  • The “Grand Bargain” read like a Republican wet dream.  Or at least a reasonable Republican’s wet dream.  Big cuts to entitlement programs, a re-write of the tax code.  Admittedly some tax increases.  But we already got a big tax increase through this year.  (BTW did you notice the deficit is down drastically since then?  It’s OK, most people haven’t).   So we’d still need to include some tax increases to keep Democrats on board this time round, but nothing too drastic.
  • And don’t even try to bring up the post-crisis revisionist history about how it was Obama’s fault.   The content alone makes it clear the heavier lifting would have been on the Democratic side (if you assume the Grand Bargain passes with reasonable adults voting yes and the wackos still wacked).

What HAS changed is that we have a major re-write of tax code lurking in the wings.

  • Remarkably little talked-about so far, the (Republican and Democratic) leaders of the House and Senate tax-writing committees have been cooking up a major tax reform package for the past year.
  • In it are all sorts of goodies for businesses (especially a re-write of the foreign profits/repatriation tax).  There is also a lot of tax-code simplification that, if twisted in the right direction, can yield a lot of additional revenue without looking too nakedly like a tax increase.  Grover Norquist will squawk, but has he ever been elected to anything?
  • My Republican friend’s beliefs notwithstanding, Obama is a committed centrist and is DESPERATE to get this country back on what he perceives as “the right track” fiscally.  Don’t take my word for it.  Obama has been enthusiastically trying to throw his liberal supporters under this bus almost since he took office.  His problem is the Republicans are too busy arguing to get the damn bus rolling.

BOEHNER CAN DRIVE THAT BUS.  November 22 is enough time to wrap up a mother-of-all-bills based on 2011’s Grand Bargain AND the clandestine tax reform packages AND the outlines of a real budget.  Its all been written up already.  Even better, Nov 22 it is too fast for the lobbyists to gum up the process.

  • The whole package passes with a mix of Republican and Democratic votes in the House AND the Senate.
  • Everyone collapses back confident they won’t pass anything else meaningful until 2014.
  • The recriminations are blunted by a general sense that “something” needed to be done.  Besides, the Lobbyists get a whole new lease on life working to unpick the new status quo.  Which will of course take more time and fees and starts the meter over as its a whole new trip you see…

The only thing standing in the way?

  • Boehner would end up burned at the stake by pitchfork wielding Tea Partiers  at the next House Speaker election.  Hopefully not literally burned at the stake.  Although with those guys you never really know….
  • Oh, and whoever the Republicans elect as speaker next will be a card-carrying wacko.  And he/she will probably have enough time to trash the Republican brand even further before the 2014 mid-terms.

But John Boehner can sit back and reflect on doing the nation a great service from wherever the Witness Protection Program places him.  Someplace sunny where the odd orange coloration doesn’t stand out too much.  Maybe running a bar – he’s already got experience doing that anyway….

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