GOP's next move
Liberals constantly lecture about their eagerness to compromise with Republicans. But Maine's Republican Sen. Susan Collins spoiled the Democrats' piety charade by demonstrating its insincerity when she suggested this compromise: Republicans would support a continuing resolution funding the government for six months at the sequester levels of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Republicans would also support raising the debt ceiling to enable the government to borrow enough to finance the substantial deficit spending. Republicans also would grant agencies greater flexibility in administering the sequester's cuts.
In exchange, Collins asked for two things. First, a mere delay, for just two years, of ObamaCare's medical-device tax, which is so “stupid” — Sen. Harry Reid's characterization — that bipartisan majorities in both houses of Congress favor outright repeal. Second, enforcement of income-verification criteria for those seeking ObamaCare's insurance subsidies — criteria the administration wrote but waived.
Here Collins was asking not for alteration of, but for enforcement of, ObamaCare. Many Republicans believe the Democrats' primary goal regarding ObamaCare is to turn as many people as possible into subsidy recipients as quickly as possible. Hence Democrats' aversion to income criteria to prevent fraud.
Democrats refused Collins' bargain, giving several reasons but really having only one important one: They loathe the sequester, which prevents them from opening the spending spigot. Their knees ache from genuflecting before the altar of a “clean” continuing resolution and a “clean” debt-ceiling increase. They insist it is a sin against good government to attach any conditions to either.
Suddenly, however, they decided that conditions are imperative. They now favor attaching to a government funding or debt-ceiling measure a change in the Budget Control Act intended to weaken the sequester.
According to Bob Woodward's meticulously reported book “The Price of Politics,” in the summer of 2011, with Republicans refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless spending would be cut an equal amount, Obama and his principal economic advisers blundered by not recognizing how the Republican Party has changed. Obama proposed that if Republicans would not agree to tax increases as well as spending cuts, the sequester would take half the cuts from defense. Republicans, Obama and his aides thought, would flinch from this.
Now Obama knows how wrong he was. Liberals, having long reviled Republicans as obsequious servants of big business and the military, are living miserably with the sequester cuts because Republicans now are resistant to business and military entreaties to open the government and raise the debt ceiling without preconditions.
Those House Republicans who dislike the Obama administration but detest Senate Republicans should understand how the moderate Collins has forced Democrats to drop their mask of moderation. And all House Republicans should understand that the sequester still torments Democrats.
As House Speaker John Boehner struggles to manage his turbulent House caucus, he should remember Casey Stengel's advice about managing a baseball team: “Keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.” No Republicans hate Boehner, but many are undecided about him because they do not understand the hammer — the sequester — he put in their hands.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.