GOP demands an end to their own idea

Remember the “triggers” in the debt-ceiling agreement? Let’s take a moment to refresh the political world’s memory.

Congressional Republicans, in a move without precedent in American history, were holding the economy and the full faith and credit of the United States hostage. Democrats, fearful that the GOP wasn’t bluffing and that the nation would pay a severe price, was willing to cut a bad deal: $900 billion in debt reduction, on top of another $1.2 trillion agreement to be worked out by a so-called super-committee.

But Dems weren’t completely willing to roll over — they wanted to create an incentive for Republicans to work in good faith on the $1.2 trillion in savings. Democrats proposed the threat of automatic tax increases to push GOP officials to be responsible, but Republicans refused and offered an alternative: if the committee failed, the GOP would accept $600 billion in defense cuts and Dems would accept $600 billion in non-defense domestic cuts.

Remember, the point was to create an incentive that the parties would be desperate to avoid. Pentagon cuts were Republicans’ contribution to the process. These cuts were their idea.

And wouldn’t you know it, Republicans don’t like their idea anymore.

Failure by Congress’ debt-cutting supercommittee to recommend $1.2 trillion in savings by Wednesday is supposed to automatically trigger spending cuts in the same amount to accomplish that job.

But the same legislators who concocted that budgetary booby trap just four months ago could end up spending the 2012 election year and beyond battling over defusing it.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say they are writing legislation to prevent what they say would be devastating cuts to the military. House Republicans are exploring a similar move.

This isn’t exactly surprising, but it is kind of amusing. Republicans, in effect, said in August, “If we fail, we’ll accept these cuts we don’t want.” The same Republicans, in effect, are now saying, “It turns out, we don’t like our idea anymore.”

In the bigger picture, Republicans were never working in good faith. Even putting aside the inherently disgusting debt-ceiling crisis they created over the summer, GOP officials were willing to offer the defense-cut trigger precisely because they knew they’d try to kill it after the super-committee inevitably failed.

Republicans started this fight demanding debt reduction, then offered massive spending cuts to a part of the government they care about. They’re now demanding less debt reduction and more government spending — and if Democrats balk, these same Republicans will spend an election year accusing them of being anti-military.

I often wonder what our discourse would be like if the general public knew what GOP officials were up to in Washington.