Monday, January 7, 2013

The Road to Nowhere

Not even a week into the new term of Congress and already the Republicans are digging in their heels.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) vowed on Sunday that Republicans would force significant spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling even if President Barack Obama had to be “dragged kicking and screaming.”

“What we’re saying is that the biggest problem facing the country is our excessive spending,” McConnell told NBC’s David Gregory. “We’ve watched the government explode over the last four years. We’ve dealt with the revenue issue, and now the question is will the president lead? Why should we have to be bringing him to the table?”

Gregory pointed out that trillions of dollars in spending cuts had been part of last year’s Budget Control Act and Republicans had refused to accept significant cuts in entitlement programs as a part of a larger deals offered by Democrats going back to debt ceiling negotiations in 2011.

“You can re-litigate the past if you want to,” McConnell laughed. “I wish the president would lead us on the discussion rather than putting himself in the position of having to be dragged kicking and screaming to discuss the single biggest issue facing our future. You know, until we adjust the entitlements so that they meet the demographics of our country, we can’t ever solve this problem. The time to solve it is now.”

“The president proposed significant entitlement cuts, Simpson-Bowles said he did it, though they would have like him to have gone farther,” Gregory observed. “But Republicans would not agree on revenues going back to last summer… You can’t say he’s been dragged kicking and screaming when he has proposed those entitlement cuts.”

“No, he has not!” McConnell shot back. “He hasn’t embraced any significant proposal here in public to deal with significant entitlement changes.”

Mr. McConnell, you will recall, was the leader who made it his top priority for the last two years to deny Mr. Obama a second term.  So taking his word on anything carries with it a significant amount of skepticism.  He will shut down the government out of spite, not out of any supposed sense of duty to any kind of economic restraint.  After all, when all that excessive spending was going on for two wars and such in the previous administration, did Mr. McConnell vote no?

On another front, the GOP are picking a fight over the selection of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on Sunday expressed dismay at reports President Obama would tap former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) for Secretary of Defense, calling it an “in your face” selection.

“I like Chuck Hagel. He served with distinction in Vietnam as an enlisted man — two Purple Hearts. But quite frankly Chuck Hagel is out of the mainstream of thinking on most issues regarding foreign policy,” said Graham in an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“He has long severed his ties with the Republican party. This is an in your face nomination of the president to all of us who are supportive of Israel,” he added. “I don’t know what his management experience is in regards to the Pentagon or global if anyway, so I think it’s an extremely controversial choice.”

Reports Sunday said that Obama had decided to name Hagel to replace current Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta as early as Monday.

Let us stipulate that there are a couple of reasons why progressives might have some doubts about Mr. Hagel as well, including his trashing of an openly gay nominee to an ambassadorial post in the Clinton administration, and the annoying fact that he is a Republican appointee in a Democratic administration, but even with those, Mr. Graham’s concerns make sense only if Mr. Hagel was being nominated to be the Secretary of Defense for Israel.  (I think that job is taken.)  It’s also more than a little ironic that Mr. Graham would complain about an “in your face” nomination by President Obama when he has been on the record more than once telling him to “man up” about his job.  Is this butch enough for you, Buttercup?

The overall point is that the Republicans are picking two fights that they are destined to lose.  The president has already won a significant battle in the budget negotiations by getting the Republicans to agree to a tax increase, even if it wasn’t as much as a lot of us hoped for, and the president seems to have learned his lesson on negotiating with terrorists on that front.  Even if the GOP succeeds in shutting down the government, they’re the ones who will be blamed for it, holding Granny’s Social Security hostage to the demands of Grover Norquist.  As for the Hagel nomination, this is a fight the president should have, especially after the dust-up over Susan Rice.  The merits or lack thereof of Mr. Hagel are one thing, but denying the president the nominee of his choice over his lack of proper deference to the lobbying group of a foreign government is something else.

It’s pretty clear to me that the Republicans are picking these fights just to do it.  It’s the only way they can exercise any power anymore.  They’ve clearly lost any credibility as honest brokers on any kind of negotiations over anything, so they’re resorting to being intractable asshats.

At least it’s something they’re good at.