about Obamacare were ‘extortion.’ Now, as the GOP resistance
collapses, Senate Democrats are pushing back.
Republican tactics on a potential government shutdown as political
hostage-taking on a par with “extortion.” So, of course, now that the
Republicans are on the run, the Democrats are doing the exact same
thing in reverse.
They’re saying they want to undo major part of the sequester budget
cuts as part of a deal to end the government shutdown and raise the
debt limit. It’s as though Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of
Nevada has finally sensed his moment to destroy that product of Tea
Party Republicanism once and for all. One might not even be surprised
if “Ride of the Valkyries” was booming from his Senate office this
That is how dramatically the story in Washington has flipped during
the two weeks since the government shutdown.
On Oct. 1, the Republicans were on the offensive — or at least thought
they were. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas was at the front of the column,
and the cry coming from his ranks was that they would stop at nothing
to gut President Obama’s signature achievement, the Affordable Care
A government shutdown? A hit to the credit rating of the United States
if Congress refused to raise the debt ceiling? Either was preferable
to a new government entitlement that they said would erode American
liberties and drive the country further into a potentially fatal debt
Inevitably, they failed, because they had nowhere near the numbers in
Congress to win, and — despite their rhetoric — only a minority of
Americans wanted to repeal Obamacare. Americans had already decided
that question in the 2012 elections, and Republicans’ failure to
accept that rebuke meant they would receive it again this month. The
Democrats, who knew all this, had not the slightest intention of
But now, members of the Republican establishment have abandoned their
Tea Party insurgents for a more moderate position: They’ve offered to
end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling — both only
temporarily — so that Congress can discuss reforming Social Security
Democrats, surely would wish for more. A temporary reprieve still
holds a hint of “extortion” and still keeps Washington bumping from
one fiscal crisis to the next. But, these days, such is the stuff of
which compromises are made.
But Senator Reid is having none of it. He knows that polls show most
Americans blaming Republicans for the current gridlock. And he knows
that the Republican establishment absolutely, positively does not want
the government to default on its debt. The Tea Party, with its
grass-roots outrage, might be willing to stay firm on its debt-limit
resolve, but establishment Republicans are much more likely to listen
to Wall Street, and a failure to raise the debt limit could mean
global financial chaos. Not good for 401(k)s.
So Reid is trying his hand at the “extortion” game. The Republicans
can only save themselves if they get out of this mess, and he’s the
only Democrat in Congress who has the power to let that happen. So
far, he’s letting them dangle.
He now wants the Republicans to roll back parts of the sequester
budget cuts agreed to during the 2011 debt-ceiling crisis. The
sequester, however, happens to be the only tangible success of
Congress’s Tea Party era. Asking the Republicans to go back on the
sequester cuts would be like asking the Democrats to go back on,
“There’s no question that House Republicans overreached in trying to
use this negotiation to repeal a [health care] bill that was very
central to the president’s agenda,’’ said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of
Tennessee, according to The Wall Street Journal. “The same thing is
happening on the Democratic side among Senate leadership as pushed by
the White House. They’re trying to now undo a law put in place in
2011, the Budget Control Act.’’
Just like the Republicans didn’t have the numbers in Congress to
defund Obamacare, the Democrats don’t have the numbers to eviscerate
the sequester. Not if the Republicans hold firm as the Democrats have.
And it’s hard to imagine the Republican-controlled House surrendering
so meekly, even in its current beaten and battered state.
In all likelihood, Reid is merely pressing his advantage to gain as
much leverage as he can. An agreement before Oct. 17, the day Congress
needs to raise the debt ceiling or risk default, now seems inevitable.
The real lesson here, it seems, is one of political perspective. In
D.C., “extortion” is just politics by another name.