Monday, March 7, 2011

Good Cop/Bad Cop

Anyone who has seen an episode of a cop show knows the good cop/bad cop routine: the first detective tries to interrogate the suspect by being friendly and coaxing out a confession while the second cop threatens to beat it out of the perp. The first cop tells the suspect that he’d better come clean because he has no idea what his partner will do, and pretty soon they have what they want.

That’s basically what E.J. Dionne is saying is going to happen with the budget negotiations on Capitol Hill with John Boehner playing the good cop and warning the White House that he’s the one who can make reasonable budget cuts.

Speaker John Boehner is casting himself as the reasonable man fully prepared to reach a deal to avoid a government shutdown. But he also has to satisfy a band of “wild-eyed bomb-throwing freshmen,” as he characterized new House members in a Wall Street Journal interview last week by way of comparing them fondly to his younger self.

Thus are negotiators for President Obama and Senate Democrats forced to deal not only with Republican leaders in the room but also with a menacing specter outside its confines. As “responsible” public officials, Democrats are asked to make additional concessions just to keep the bomb-throwers at bay.

This is the perverse genius of what the House Republicans are up to: Nobody really thinks that anything like their $57 billion in remaining proposed budget cuts can pass. It’s unlikely that all of their own members are confident about all of the cuts they have voted for. But by taking such a large collection of programs hostage, the GOP can be quite certain to win many more fights than it would if each reduction were considered separately.

What the Democrats have to do is realize that they are being played. If they accept the argument that Mr. Boehner is making — that he is the only bulwark against the insanity of the teabaggers — then they lose right there. All they’re doing is enabling. Unfortunately, there are too many Democrats who will fall for the ploy; enough to make it a real discussion on their side and give the GOP enough room to be able to go on Fox and claim that there are “reasonable” Democrats who will are willing to go along with their ransom demands and that it’s the White House that is being stubborn and crazy.