The Consequences of Legislative Power

So, as most of you know, an agreement was reached last night during the 11th hour to avert a government shutdown. The Democrats and Republicans ultimately agreed to somewhere between $37 and $39 billion dollars, depending on who you ask, and red meat is not on the menu.

The details of the cuts contained in the agreement remain elusive as I type this, but we do know that the majority of the riders, which the Republicans were willing to hold the entire government hostage over, were plucked from the final bill. Planned Parenthood escaped the clutches of the Tea Party and the Affordable Care Act remains intact.

Economically, this is a loss for the nation. It's true that in the long-term our deficit problem is going to have to be addressed, but this is the wrong time to be doing that. Current projections suggest that the $39 billion dollar compromise may cost anywhere between 100,000 and 450,000 jobs. In addition to the job losses already being experienced at the state-government level, this does not bode well for the economy. Fortunately, John Boehner has already volunteered to absorb the blame for these loses by saying "So be it."

The economic losses could have been much worse. The Republicans campaigned in 2010 on the idea that they would cut $100 billion dollars from the 2011 budget, a number that could have potentially eliminated a million jobs. The original dollar amount that the Republicans began this debate at was $60 billion, and for a time, a $78 billion dollar amount was floated, but they only ended up getting $39 billion. Even $39 billion is a major loss for the economy during this inopportune time on the road to recovery, but the unfortunate fact remains that Republicans control the House of Representatives and the consequence of that legislative power is being unable to pass a budget without their consent.

Politically I believe this is a major victory for President Obama and, to a lesser extent, senate Democrats. Throughout this entire process, the president has been calm, accommodating, reasonable, and very calculated in his framing of the situation. The more defiantly-left among us may not appreciate the president's hijacking of certain talking-points, but that political-investment strategy has just paid dividends.

While speaking to the nation tonight to announce a compromise, he took advantage of the fact that most of the nation was paying attention, and used the opportunity to look directly at the camera and let them know that they can stop worrying about next week’s paycheck. And not coincidentally, his triangulations allowed him to say things that not only appealed to this wide audience, but also things that were not inconsistent with his previous remarks. He knew it would come down to this from the beginning.

In contrast, consider the corner that Republicans painted themselves into -- They displayed to the entire nation, with much fanfare, that they were willing to push the government to the brink of shutdown in an effort to achieve their ideological agenda of defunding reproductive healthcare for women. From day one, the Republicans have appeared decidedly unreasonable and inhospitable, showing little care for the consequences of their actions.

There are no videos of average American's clamoring for a government shutdown and there are no videos of Democrats salivating for a government shutdown, but the borderline fetishistic desire of the right-wing for a government shutdown is well documented.

President Obama, on the other hand, never dispensed so much as a hint that he desired a government shutdown, and that matters, because an even larger battle is ahead of us. President Obama has effectively held the high-ground, and the more political capital he can accumulate before facing the coming Republican ideological crusade, the better chance the rest of us have of not being consumed by it.

Ironically, the reaction to the actions of the leadership of both parties from the far-left and far-right respectively were nearly identical. From the fringes of the spectrum, both parties were accused of "caving" or "selling-out," but in the world in which most Americans reside, a world in which next week's paycheck is next week's meal ticket, such accusations are effectively meaningless. And those Americans are the ones who decide elections.

Claiming that compromise should be out of the question may sound good when hurled from the safety of your armchair, but it's not an effective way to achieve our long-term goals. You can't implement your goals if you don't have the legislative power to do so, and the only way to obtain the legislative power to do so is by winning elections. And you don't win elections by playing the role of an ideologue when it comes time to deal with your political adversaries.

If we wish for the debate to change, and if we want to clear the fog from the road to the future, we have to keep our eye on the ball and ensure that we regain the power to change it. And if your strategy for regaining that power is to focus on your inadequacies rather than your strengths, then you're basically just pissing into the wind while your enemies laugh at you and prepare for war.