Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The One That Got Away

By all accounts the 1988 New York Mets were the best team in baseball. They had run away with the division and, as they entered the postseason, were heavy favorites to win their second title in three years. But the Los Angeles Dodgers had other plans. They upset the Mets in the league championship series and went onto beat the A's in the World Series.

The moral of that story was simple: never take anything for granted. Just because you have superior talent doesn't mean you'll prevail. Football coaches have a saying: On any given Sunday, any team can beat you. It's a warning against not only complacency, but against arrogant pride, for pride goeth before a fall.

That's why I'm increasingly worried about the sequester, which is about to kick in. Once more President Obama is facing down Republicans over yet another man-made crisis. He's got the public on his side. He's even got the facts on his side. But the real question is, at the end of the day, will he have history on his side?

His principle opponent, John Boehner, is a leader in name only. Though Speaker of the House, he is completely unable to handle his own caucus. The fiscal cliff deal left him badly damaged and most of his own party does not trust him as a "true" conservative. He has gone on record as saying that new tax revenues are off the table. If he fails again, his Speakership is all but finished. Predictably, he has, once more, punted the ball to the Senate. The Senate, for its part, will likely take up two bills, neither of which will receive the necessary threshold of 60 votes to clear a filibuster.

Obama and the Democrats have said that they want spending cuts to be balanced with new tax revenues, mainly from closing loopholes and ending deductions for wealthy income earners. Republicans consider revenue a non-starter.

Both sides have drawn a line in the sand. Only an incurable optimist would predict a positive outcome here. The fact is, pending a miracle, the sequester is going to happen on Friday. The only questions are how long will it last and who is going to blink first.

My gut tells me that initially the GOP is going to get creamed here. Voters are already fed up with them and this latest stunt will only intensify their contempt. Of course the main problem for Obama is twofold: First off, most of the hardcore conservatives who are currently running the show over in the insane asylum don't really care that much for what the voters have to say about them anyway. Remember these were the dim bulbs who confidently predicted that Mitt Romney would easily defeat Obama last November. When you live in that kind of bubble, it's hard imagining anything, let alone reason, getting through.

But the real problem for Obama is actually far worse than a political party with a death wish. As this sequester drags on and the painful realities of it begin to work there way into the economy, the public will start to grow antsy. If Republicans don't give on new revenues, and the U.S. economy tanks, don't kid yourself, voters will look to the White House, not Capital Hill, for answers. That high approval rating that Obama currently enjoys will sink faster than a hot-air balloon in Egypt.

Mark my words, the longer this goes on, the worse, not better, the prospects get for Obama and Democrats.  Think about it. How much lower can the GOP's approval rating plummet? It's practically in single digits as it is. When you've got nothing left to lose, why not go for broke?

The nice thing about being the underdog is that nobody expects you to win anyway. All the pressure's on the favorite. Right now Barack Obama is the favorite. He holds the leverage in these negotiations, along with the best bully pulpit imaginable. By contrast, the GOP can't get out of its own way.

Logically, this should be an easy win. But logic has nothing to do with what's going on here. The Republican goal is as obvious as the nose on your face. Force austerity on Obama, then blame him when the economy sputters and we enter another recession.

As I said in an earlier post, it's "diabolical and cowardly." But it is the only card they have to play and play it they will. And that's why, when Obama meets Friday with Bohner and Mitch McConnell, he must do all he can to make sure this nightmare scenario never plays out.

Obama has long yearned for the grand bargain that got away from him in 2011. Now would be a good time to go for it. If he brings something to the table that McConnell can sell to his members - real entitlement reform, say - he can get a bill through the Senate that even Boehner will be unable to resist. He doesn't have to give away the store, but he has to give on something, even if it means potentially angering his base.

The Tea Party has been praying for this moment. Now it's here. Obama cannot let them have it. To those who would say that Obama should call the Republicans' bluff, I would ask one simple question. Where have you been hiding the last two years?  This was a party that was willing to shut down the government in 2010 until Obama agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts, was willing to default on the debt ceiling in 2011 until they got their sequester, and is now on the verge of sabotaging the economy to prove a point. Calling their bluff is the last thing any reasonably sane leader should be doing.

I've said it before, I will say it again. The problem with being the adult in the classroom is that you have to act like one, even when the brats are pulling your hair and drawing on the desks.

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