Thursday, April 7, 2011
Let me be clear. I hope desperately, that some TRUE compromise can be reached on the budget before time runs out. But Republicans, from the very beginning, have sought to use this threat to shove their agenda down our throats. They have proposed massive cuts that significantly hurt the low income families who need government the most. They have targeted Planned Parenthood in an outrageous overreach of the abortion debate. They have targeted NPR and PBS, the last standing beacons for educational media. They have proposed slashing the EPA budget, because they have forgotten that our clean air and water is one of the few remaining things that separates us from a third world country, since our income inequality does not. And throughout it all, they have avoided military spending, a constantly ballooning source of debt.
This isn't "budgeting". This isn't "fiscal responsibility". This is an agenda being driven through a budget and carried out under threat of shutdown. To see the full extent of the policy changes being proposed through the Republican budget click here.
A few months ago, we faced a similar stand off on the expiring Bush tax cuts. The Republicans said there, as they have said now, it is our way or no way. Obama backed down at that time and chose to give them their tax cuts in order to obtain unemployment benefits. But truly, compromise under threat is not compromise, it's extortion. At some point we have to stand up for what we believe in and be prepared to make sacrifices for that cause. As progressives, we believe in a government that helps the people who need it most, not just the top 1%. I still believe in Obama, and I believe he wants to do good things. But as President he has allowed the Republicans to get under his skin. Right now, he has a chance to stand strong again. If the government must shutdown for a few days in order that Republicans come to the table with real compromise, then so be it.
In this matter, I must admit to having a TV-based source of inspiration. While the show the West Wing, is most surely fiction, the issues it raises are in fact all too real. The Obama White House has had several moments of similarity with the Bartlett Administration, but none have been so eerie as this. In the clip below, from the end of the episode "Separation of Powers" you will see the attempts of a young, more radically conservative, Speaker to extort the President in the 11th hour negotiations around the budget. (For those who want to see how the crisis is eventually resolved, watch the episode "Shutdown" where Josh Lyman pulls out some absolutely brilliant political moves.)
There's an eerie similarity between the fictional Speaker Haffley and today's Republicans. In the words of Harry Reid, “We’ve been more than reasonable. More than fair. We meet them halfway, they say no. We meet them more than halfway, they still say no. We meet them all the way, they still say no.” They have truly become the party of no, and they believe threats hold more value than compromise.
So I ask, is Obama prepared to say "shut it down"? I hope so. Because like Bartlett, I wonder, "What next?" This is not the first showdown, and it will not be the last. We cannot afford to set a precedent of fake compromise. We must prepare for real sacrifice and a real fight. Republicans have shown that they have a whole lot of bark, but I think if we force them to act, we'll see they're still growing baby teeth.