Thursday, June 02, 2011


I'm sure you know (as Politico reports today) that Republicans continue to think they can play chicken with the White House and force Democrats to accept cuts to Medicare and Medicaid in return for a vote to increase the debt ceiling:

...Boehner's let's-get-a-deal-done stance masks a deeper belief within the House Republican Conference -- that Obama will back down eventually and agree to its demands, forcing Capitol Hill Democrats to follow suit.

"Of course, it's dangerous," a House Republican close to Boehner said of the politics of a government default. "But it's dangerous for everybody, especially the president. At the end of the day, [Obama] will have to give in."

"Who has egg on their face if there is a sovereign debt crisis, House Republicans or the president?" asked another senior GOP lawmaker.

It occurs to me that if we had a different kind of Democratic Party -- gutsy, unified, and ideologically forthright -- the Democrats could actually steal the advantage Republicans feel they have, by using of one of the aspects of public opinion Republicans are counting on most: the belief that default wouldn't be all that big a deal.

Imagine if Democrats had the nerve to engage in budget brinkmanship. Republicans are willing to do so because polls tell us the public believes that government spending is a worse problem than a possible default. But I bet Americans also believe that an evisceration of Medicare would be worse than a possible default. Nobody polls that because everyone knows the Democrats would never say to the Republicans, "We're going to stand firm on the structure of Medicare. We'll risk a default to save it."

What I'm saying is that a nervy, genuinely progressive Democratic Party actually could make that a choice -- and I think the public would go along. If a default happened under those conditions, and if it was as bad as most informed observers predict (and thus much worse than the public expects), I think the public would blame the consequences on the Republicans.

I know, I know: as Matt Yglesias puts it:

...the evidence from political science does appear to suggest that if Republican intransigence destroys the American economy, that the voters will respond to this by punishing the incumbent President and electing a Republican.

I understand why he thinks that; I've always assumed that no matter who screws up, via incompetence or reckless endangerment, Democrats will be the ones punished. But I'm not sure that's true. I'm starting to think it's not that Democrats always get punished -- it's that the party that's sure of itself, and that has a seemingly morality-based argument that's simple and compellingly argued, always gets rewarded.

That party is invariably the Republicans. But what if it were the Democrats? What if they said right now, "No matter what, we're preserving Medicare"? It's very possible, I think, that Republicans would be the ones punished for the consequences of a default -- because Democrats, for once, made a moral argument and made it stick.

Polls make clear that the public hates the Ryan Medicare plan. A Gallup poll now says the president's disapproval rating is below 40% for the first time in 18 months.

Making this all about Medicare could put the egg on the Republicans' faces.

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