The nature of a debt-ceiling compromise

I always like Ezra’s analogies. Today’s item on the debt ceiling is a good one, because it touches on part of the debt-ceiling fight that often goes overlooked.

You and I have decided to have lunch together today. We both need lunch. We both know we’re going to have lunch. But we don’t agree on where to eat. So you propose Mexican, but I counter with Chinese, and warn that if you refuse, neither of us will get to eat lunch ever again. Deal?

Of course not. But that’s pretty much the GOP’s strategy on the debt-ceiling negotiation. The Republican position on the debt ceiling is “no” to a clean increase and “no” to a bargain that includes both tax increases and spending cuts. The Democratic position is “yes” to a clean increase, but as of yet, it’s not “no” to a bargain that includes spending cuts but resists revenues. That seems to me like something that needs to change.

In general, both parties have the same position on the debt ceiling: It needs to be raised. That’s lunch. The two parties have different positions on deficit reduction: Democrats believe it should include tax increases and Republicans don’t. That’s where lunch should happen. But Republicans are trying to make their position in this negotiation “spending cuts” and the Democratic position “debt ceiling.” Democrats shouldn’t let them. That’s not the right trade.

This is important because the parties, at this point, not only can’t reach a compromise, but don’t even agree on what a compromise is.

To borrow Ezra’s analogy, Democrats are effectively saying, “Let’s compromise — we’ll join you for Mexican food at lunch, and in exchange, we’ll get Chinese food for dinner.”

Republicans are responding, “Let’s compromise — we’ll get the Mexican food we want, and in exchange, you won’t starve.”

That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s really not. On the debt ceiling, Dems long ago gave up hope of seeing a clean bill, and want to strike a deal on longer-debt debt reduction. Democrats are willing to accept a trade-off — they’ll accept spending cuts in exchange for some tax increases. That seems like a fair compromise to them.

Republicans have a very different idea about the nature of the process. They see an alternative trade-off — the GOP will accept spending cuts, and in exchange, they won’t deliberately destroy the economy.

Dems are willing to accept concessions to strike a deal. Republicans are willing to not shoot their hostage in the head in exchange for Dems giving the GOP what it wants.

The former is an example of a party negotiating in good faith. The latter is an example of reckless thugs pretending to be a political party.