So there were all along three possible ways out of the Government Shutdown and Debt Ceiling Crises, at least from a legislative standpoint. (After all, remember that any bill would actually have to pass both houses of Congress and be signed by the President.)
- The Senate Bipartisan Plan. This is what happened. The Senate Leadership from both sides gets together, makes a deal that funds the government and extends the debt ceiling, and includes very little concessions to the GOP (because they have little influence in the Senate). This is what Obama wanted all along. It gets through the House with all the Democrats and a minority of the most moderate Republicans.
- The Tea Party Pipe Dream. Obama agrees to sign a bill with large concessions on the Affordable Health Care Act and/or an array of other conservative priorities. This passes the House with a unified GOP caucus, and squeaks through the Senate because there is enough popular pressure on moderate Democrats to force them to vote for it.
- Conference Committee. The Senate passes their plan. The unified GOP caucus passes their unified pipe dream. It goes to conference committee, and something comes out that is palatable enough that it can pass both Houses of Congress and be signed by the President. No one is happy.
We’ve spent the last 16 days… well, really the last month… with a huge portion of the Right convinced that the #2 was a viable legislative strategy. Of course, most people with any Washington acumen at all–including such liberals as Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and the Wall St. Journal Opinion Page–thought that it was a dumb idea. After all, you have to be pretty delusional to believe that President Obama and something like 10 Senate Democrats are going to agree to renegotiate their signature policy victory of the last decade when poll after poll told them that if they held firm, the GOP would take the brunt of the blame.
But it wasn’t actually that particular delusion that did in the plan. It was a much more subtle, but insidious delusion that ultimately caused the GOP to cave in. After all, notice that both #2 and #3 require a unified GOP caucus. In other words, all of the House Republicans have to agree on a single bill that would reopen the federal government, extend the debt ceiling, and otherwise be better than the status quo. This is why the House GOP caucus met two days ago; to come up with such a plan.
And they failed. They failed spectacularly. It turns out that the House GOP caucus can’t even agree on whether or not we ought to extend the debt ceiling or reopen government.
Which means that Plans #2 and #3 were non-starters. The only viable plan left was the one that could have been implemented a month ago.
In other words, hundreds of thousands of people were out of a job for 16 days because the GOP leadership couldn’t admit to the world three weeks ago that the House GOP caucus was too fractured to agree on a compromise with Obama, even if by some miracle he did actually agree to one.
That’s truly amazing.