In the Arena

Tea or Sanity

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Well, this was one of the more exhilarating days of legislative politics we’ve had in quite some time. The Senate’s Gang of Six came up with the deal everyone thought impossible–upwards of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade, a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases with some very attractive tax reform thrown in. The House Republicans passed their own plan–Cut, Slash and Burn, or whatever they’re calling it–on a partisan vote.

And so we’ve reached a moment of truth for the Republicans: party or cult, Tea or sanity? Grover or clover?

First, you have to hand it to the Gang of Six. What they did took guts. Three stalwart conservatives–Coburn of Oklahoma, Chambliss of Georgia, Crapo of Idaho–supported significant revenue increases. Three liberals–Durbin of Illinois, Conrad of North Dakota and Warner of Virginia–supported significant entitlement cuts. A moderate named Obama also supported the deal, so no one can any longer say that he hasn’t put his money where his mouth is. There will be plenty in this deal for everyone to hate, including me, but that’s what makes it plausible. It is the exact opposite of what Washington usually produces and pretends to deem historic. If this thing flies, it shows Wall Street, China and the world that we’re still a serious country. (It should also open the way for some serious short-term stimulus, perhaps funded through a National Infrastructure Bank.)

Given that, it is rather lovely to peruse the quotes of the Republican leadership. Here’s Boehner:

“This plan shares many similarities with the framework the speaker discussed with the president, but also appears to fall short in some important areas.” (Translation: This is what I was trying to do but my nimrod caucus, and that ambitious jerk Eric Cantor prevented me.)

And here’s Mitch McConnell:

“I haven’t had a chance to decide how I feel about it.” (Translation: I’m old enough to remember when this deal would have been seen as a conservative triumph, but I can’t take credit it for it and the President can, so I’m kind of boxed here, I guess.)

There are more than a few people who will be made uncomfortable by the Gang of Six deal: the execrable Republican presidential field, especially, Mitt Romney–if he doesn’t support it, he yields moderate turf to Jon Huntsman, who surely will back it. If Romney does support it, Rick Perry will enter the race a migraine-free, fire-breathing Tea Party banshee. This will also make life less comfortable for Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats who were hoping to ride the Ryan/Republican evisceration of Medicare back into the majority in 2012. And it will make life exceedingly unpleasant for the entire Republican caucus: after all their fuss, do they actually vote against $4 trillion plus of debt relief?

It’s rare that the center path in American politics is the locale for sheer, principled courage. This is one of those moments. I can’t wait to see how it falls apart.