Remember back when this government shutdown started and the Republicans had so many ambitions? They were going to defund ObamaCare, or at least delay the individual mandate for a year. They were going to introduce a “conscience clause” that would allow employers to deny their workers access to contraception. They were going to compel the administration to bypass the deliberative process at the State Department and preemptively license the Keystone XL pipeline. They were going to gut coal-ash regulations and expand offshore drilling. They were going to get fast track authority for tax reform legislation based on Rep. Paul Ryan’s principles. They were going to cripple the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and rip apart the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms. They’d means-test Medicare and finally get tort reform. They had these dreams and many more besides.

But where are we now? All the various deals and negotiations have collapsed, and it’s down to a one-on-one between Reid and McConnell.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, spoke cordially by telephone but remained deadlocked. The stumbling block is over spending levels, the length of a debt ceiling increase and how long a temporary spending measure should keep the government open until a longer-term budget deal can be reached.

Translation: the talks are about how much new spending will be added to the sequester, how much the borrowing limit will be expanded, and how much time will be covered under the continuing resolution.

Further translation: the Republicans aren’t even asking for anything on their wish-list anymore.

Which is as it should be, because they never offered the Democrats a damn thing in return.

Republicans reacted with frustration over what they saw as the shifting demands of a Democratic leadership intent on inflicting maximum damage on adversaries sinking in the polls and increasingly isolated.

“The Democrats keep moving the goal posts,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine and a lead negotiator, said Sunday. “Decisions within the Democratic conference are constantly changing.”

But Democratic aides said a deal taking shape among a bipartisan group of senators offered Democrats nothing beyond a reopening of the government and temporary assurances that the government will not default in the coming days. Those should be seen not as concessions but as basic obligations of Congress, they say.

How many times have I heard this president be criticized for giving the store away? I think all that talk is almost as delusional as the ambitions the Republicans took into this showdown. Back in 2011, during the last debt ceiling fiasco, the Republicans had the ability and the motivation to cripple the economy to such a degree that the president probably could not have been reelected. Would they have actually done it?

I guess we’ll never know, but who can blame the president for being unwilling to hand that decision to his political opponents? All he ever asked was for a balanced approach that included some new tax revenue, and his opponents have not yet ever come close to taking ‘yes’ for an answer if it required violating their pledge to Grover Norquist. What we got instead was sequestration. That was the only way the Republicans could keep some of the president’s concessions without making any of their own. In order to get the president to give away the store, they had to eschew most of what they said they really wanted and appropriate with a sledgehammer that removed all discretion, wisdom, and values from the system.

And where has it gotten them?

Now they are competing with shingles and herpes for popularity. Now they are hopelessly divided and business leaders are furious with them. And they’re back to square one, facing budget negotiations that will no longer allow them to pocket gains without making concessions. They will have to spell out what they want, which appears to be to diminish the value of their base’s earned benefits in return for agreeing to raise their base’s taxes.

Good luck with that.

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Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at