Opinion: Why Can't Washington Cut a Deal? The GOP Doesn't Want One

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 - 12:52 PM

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) participates in a news conference at the U.S. Capitol (Mark Wilson/Getty)

When Speaker Boehner walked out of negotiations to raise the debt ceiling yet again, you could feel the breeze of Americans across the country collectively shake their heads in disbelief.

President Obama had brought entitlements to the table, something that his own party frowned upon. He had elevated the conversation to a longterm vision for sweeping cuts and deficit reduction. In short, he had done exactly what it seemed Republicans wanted.

So why had Boehner walked out? Because ultimately, what many in the Republican leadership want is not a sweeping, far-reaching deal. They actually want no deal at all because that would show a functioning government. And their real sweeping, longterm vision is making sure we have a government that doesn't work.

There's the near-term politics of it, of course. The Party of No has made clear since January, 2009, that it is not interested in compromising with the Obama Administration; it really just wants to obstruct. From its near-lockstep opposition to stimulus spending to healthcare reform to its successful efforts to kill discussions on immigration and climate change, Congressional Republicans did all they could to ensure that the change promised by the new president would be slow and stifled.

However, it would be foolish to see this only as a matter of gaining political advantage in the next election cycle (though that did work for them in 2010). The much deeper goal is to kill government as we know it. Grover Norquist, the prominent crusader against government services, famously said, “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub." That spirit animates the conservative leadership in Washington.

It's why they don't propose an alternative to healthcare reform; they simply seek to end it. They don't want a dynamic leader like Elizabeth Warren at the head of the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau because they don't want the government to be effective in policing Wall Street. They are giddy when the stimulus efforts stumble because it helps their argument that government needs to stay out of business. And their only proactive proposal -- Medicare reform - is about taking a successful, popular government program -- and gutting it.

In fairness, I don't think this is necessarily mean-spirited. For many conservatives, it's based in a genuine belief that we need less government. It's why many state legislatures are part-time or only meet on alternate years: to prevent them from doing too much. Sadly, it's out of touch with the reality of our 21st century economy and with the needs of our planet.

Public resources are required to fight diseases and prevent epidemics, which become dangerously more viral in our globalized community.

Environmental dangers don't respect state boundaries and demand federal action. The creation of the internet only happened because government action marshaled the intelligence, creativity and capital to invest in it. In the conservative utopia, government would fail at all of these.

And we can see what that fantasy looks like in Minnesota where the rigid refusal to negotiate on a budget has led to a government shutdown of all but emergency services. While the most visible first victims of this impasse where families seeking to enjoy state parks over the holiday weekend, as the shutdown drags on, more services are affected. It's hurting the state's business community. It's taking a toll on roads. It's endangering environmental reviews. In short, when the government isn't working, the state itself isn't able to work.

The Minnesota stalemate isn't that different from the one in Washington. When you have two sides negotiating for a functional government, it's one conversation. But when one side seeks political gains and ideological satisfaction by negotiating against functional government, it's a whole different story.

Hopefully, President Obama tells a narrative of his own: one about government programs like Social Security that function as they are supposed to; about problems that individuals and states can't solve on their own; about common goals that deserve the attention of our shared resources. Because that story won't just prevail in this negotiation, but is essential for engaging the public in pushing our elected officials to be the government we deserve.

<p><em>Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York  City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250  local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and  author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."</em></p>


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Comments [13]

Justin Krebs from NYC

Sorry Jack Jackson - I don't quite understand your point. How did you interpret my post that way?

Jul. 25 2011 08:31 PM
Michael from nyc

This article reads exactly like its accusations toward the GOP - one sided. Both sides are posturing like always to garner gotcha points in the next election. The reality is that the Obama administration is a spending machine. The prez as some grand ideas - many, very honorable - but he's tried to do too much, too fast. The fed government needs to cut back!!

Jul. 13 2011 10:55 PM
Ed from NYC

What exactly has Obama done to improve our economy since taking office? Um, nothing. Why should anyone trust him to be making good economic decisions all of a sudden?

This statement jumps out in the middle of this mish-mash of an argument:

"Public resources are required to fight diseases and prevent epidemics, which become dangerously more viral in our globalized community."

Where did it come from and was the author making himself tear up at his own hyperbole?

Jul. 13 2011 09:56 PM
suzan from NYC

I am weary of the petty, selfish, hateful, bullying, hypocritical, blackmailing, unethical,
destructive, unfair and ignorant behavior of Republicans. To me it seems that they are the biggest enemy of our democratically elected government, since they are doing everything in their power to make it fail.
They have no shame as usual.

Jul. 13 2011 09:32 PM
Anthony Salieri

Government spends too much money. It takes in too much money. It does this to feed its own self. Government needs to be smaller. Stop taking my money and labor at every level, Federal, State and Local. . Everyone pays too much tax for this reason. End of story. Stop being jealous and get to it.

Jul. 13 2011 04:55 PM
Morgan Grayson from New York

I say let these "no government" people do a summer in Somalia and see how it affects their thinking....

Jul. 13 2011 01:57 PM

Get Boehner and Canton out of office. They are parasites along with the Federal Reserve

Jul. 13 2011 01:22 PM
Margaret from UWS Manhattan

Re. McConnell saying "A 'millionaires' tax won't help, it would be too small a % of the deficit": So what, what % it would be relative to the deficit? The point is that they should pay their fair share anyway. It will then make whatever contribution it does to the larger problem. So much for 'relative morality'.

Jul. 13 2011 12:53 PM

Right now the GOP and Fox News, the information arm of the Republican/Tea Party, are busy with two more urgent issues at hand: Michelle Obama's visit to a Shake Shack and light bulbs.

Sometimes ignorance and insanity have their own rewards.

Jul. 13 2011 11:40 AM
Gary from Brooklyn

The Republican legislators should be asked to sign a new pledge:

"We will forgo all our salary and benefits to ease our national debt in the event that there is no agreement on raising the debt ceiling".

This might shift some votes.

Jul. 13 2011 11:29 AM
Jenna from South Dakota

You need to raise taxes for the rich by Aug 2nd. That is the deadline Obama has set for congress. Stop lying and help us, the people. Congress, we are burning bridges in other countries because we cannot pay our debt. Pay our debts back already!

Jul. 13 2011 11:21 AM
Virginia from Putnam Valley NY

Then what? That's the scary question. What do they do with the ashes?
We can't let them go on. Hopefully with 2012 a presidential year the people who rested in 2010 will come out, support Obama and in that wake, usher back in more objective legislators.

Jul. 13 2011 09:49 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Justin, is what you are saying it is cheaper to pay out of pocket for what YOU need than it is to pay for them collectively if the collective purchases includes things you don't need? Like schools, parks depts workers and postal workers...

This is fine for those with plenty of money...about 4 or 5% are worth $1M or more...but what about the rest of us?

Jul. 12 2011 07:21 PM

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