When the history of the debt limit fight of 2013 is written, one of the enduring questions historians will have to answer is why Republicans allowed the Democrats to negotiate with the Senate Republicans and the House Republicans separately. That was the mistake that forced the House GOP to swallow a tax increase in the fiscal cliff deal. Yet the GOP allowed it to happen again–and, worse, seemed quite surprised by it.
The Democrats, looking to spend as much money as possible while the country’s adults fret about the future, have exploited the Senate-House divide like kids manipulating Mom and Dad. When I was a kid, my parents had a rule: if one of them said “no,” that was like both of them saying “no.” If you tried to ask the other for something one of them had refused, you would be punished. Democrats operate without that discipline.
As I write this, the outlines of a Senate deal seem to have come together. The mainstream media, elated that the president and the Democrats are getting much more favorable terms, ignore the fact that the House will have to approve anything the Senate does. They assume that incredible pressure from the press and pundits will be enough to force the House to do anything–especially with the threat of default looming Thursday.
Two outcomes seem possible. One is that the House will accept the Senate deal–perhaps with Democratic votes–and the leadership will be ousted at the next opportunity. The other is that the House will surprise the country by rejecting the deal and forcing negotiations to go past the Thursday deadline. Playing off one Republican caucus against the other may turn out to have been too clever for the country’s own good.
If the latter, Democrats will share the blame, deserving condemnation for asking for more than the House GOP could deliver. Either way, however, Republican leaders will have made a grave tactical error. When the White House called for meetings between each caucus separately, they should have refused. Negotiations together, or not at all. If one says “no,” the other says “no.” They did not. They will owe history an explanation.