A point that may seem obvious but might not be to many people is this: the GOP did not have to threaten to bring down the economy to get the spending cuts it apparently achieved last night. The president, with backing from most Democrats in Congress, would almost certainly have yielded on those cuts, and probably more, in the normal course of bargaining over the next budget if the Republicans had also been willing to yield on tax increases. It’s important to understand this, because Republicans are going to want to portray their extortion strategy as necessary to achieving the goal of cutting spending and reducing the deficit, but it was not. It was a choice they made in order to get leverage over their opponents. The two parties were bargaining over fiscal matters, as they do every so often, but this time, one side pulled out a gun. That’s essentially what happened. It was an act of crime, not of necessity.

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Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly. A former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, he is writing a book on America’s involvement in the Greek War of Independence.