Liberals constantly lecture, more in theatrical sorrow than in actual anger, about their eagerness to compromise with Republicans, just not with Republicans who are â?? liberal moderation expresses itself immoderately â?? hostage-taking terroristic anarchistic jihadist suicide bombers. But Maineâ??s Republican Sen. Susan Collins, the very model of moderation, spoiled the Democratsâ?? piety charade by demonstrating its insincerity when she suggestedÂ this compromise:
Republicans would support a continuing resolution that funds the government for six months at the â??sequesterâ?ť levels of the Budget Control Act of 2011, which was produced by that yearâ??s debt-ceiling negotiations. Republicans would also support raising the debt ceiling to enable the government to borrow enough to finance the substantial deficit spending involved in even sequester-level spending. (The sequesterâ??s supposed severity does not come close to balancing the budget.) Republicans also would grant agencies greater flexibility in administering the sequesterâ??s cuts.
In exchange, Collins asked for only two things. First, a mere delay, and for just two years, ofÂ Obamacareâ??s medical-device tax, which is so â??stupidâ?ť â??Â Sen. Harry Reidâ??s characterizationÂ â?? thatÂ bipartisan majorities in both houses of CongressÂ favor outright repeal. Second, enforcement of income-verification criteria for those seeking Obamacareâ??s insurance subsidies â?? criteria the administration wrote but waived.
Here Collins was asking not for alteration of, but for enforcement of, Obamacare. Just as many Republicans believe the Democratsâ?? primary goal regarding immigration reform is to turn as many immigrants as possible into voters as quickly as possible, many Republicans also believe the Democratsâ?? primary goal regarding Obamacare is to turn as many people as possible into subsidy recipients as quickly as possible. Hence Democratsâ?? aversion to income criteria to prevent fraud.
As of early Monday evening,Â Democrats had refused Collinsâ??s bargain, giving several reasons but really having only one important one: They loathe the sequester, which prevents them from opening the spending spigot. Their knees ache from genuflecting before the altar of a â??cleanâ?ť continuing resolution and a â??cleanâ?ť debt-ceiling increase. They insist it is a sin against good government to attach any conditions to either.
Suddenly, however, they decided that conditions are imperative. They favored attaching to a government funding or debt-ceiling measure a change in the Budget Control Act intended to weaken the sequester.
Barack Obama, who says you did not see and hear himÂ draw a â??red lineâ?ť regarding Syrian chemical weaponsÂ (â??the worldâ?ť drew it), insists: â??The sequester is not something that Iâ??ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed.â?ť ThisÂ neon fib, made during last yearâ??s campaign, matters because the sequester has become the main bone of contention in the shutdown and debt-ceiling dramas.
According to Bob Woodwardâ??s meticulously reported book â??The Price of Politics,â?ť in the summer of 2011, with Republicans refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless spending were cut an equal amount,Â Obama and his principal economic advisers blunderedÂ by not recognizing how the Republican Party has changed. Obama proposed that if Republicans would not agree to tax increases as well as spending cuts, the sequester would take half the cuts from defense. Republicans, Obama and his aides thought, would flinch at this.
Now Obama knows how wrong he was. Liberals, having long reviled Republicans as obsequious servants of big business and the military, are living miserably with the sequester cuts because Republicans now are resistant to business and military entreaties to open the government and raise the debt ceiling without preconditions.
Early in the Cold War and in the Air Forceâ??s existence as an independent service, during fierce inter-service competition for scarce resources,Â Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Strategic Air Command, was briefed by a junior officer who repeatedly referred to the Soviet Union as â??the enemy.â?ť LeMay supposedly interrupted to say, â??Young man, the Soviet Union is our adversary. Our enemy is the Navy.â?ť
Those House Republicans who dislike the Obama administration but detest Senate Republicans should understand how the moderate Collins forced Democrats to drop their mask of moderation. And all House Republicans should understand that the victory won in the summer of 2011 â?? the sequester, achieved by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell â?? still torments Democrats.
As House Speaker John Boehner struggles to manage hisÂ turbulent House caucus, he should rememberÂ Casey Stengelâ??s advice about managingÂ a baseball team: â??Keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.â?ť No Republicans hate Boehner, but many are undecided about him because they do not understand the hammer â?? the sequester â?? he wields.