The 'Grand Bargain' Is An Insane Way Out Of The Government Shutdown

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John Boehner Barack Obama

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Somehow, various people in Washington have spent the last day discussing the idea that the way to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling is to tie those actions to a broad fiscal policy overhaul, including entitlement and possibly tax reform.

Politico has a headline positing that a grand bargain on entitlements might be the "only way" out of a shutdown.

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

The House has shut down the government as part of an anti-Obamacare strategy that even most Republicans think is idiotic. Congress can't pass a bill to keep the government open for six weeks or 10 weeks at the same spending levels that Republicans and Democrats agreed to in 2011. The way we're supposed to fix this problem is by adding major, long-term fiscal reforms to the discussions?

I guess the theory is that Republicans want entitlement reform, and it would make them more amenable to not doing the various things they can do to tank the economy — such as causing the U.S. government to hit the debt ceiling.

But Republicans do not demonstrate enthusiasm for entitlement reform even on its own terms. Remember, this is a party that spent the last two election cycles hammering Democrats for cutting Medicare too much. When President Obama proposed using the chained consumer price index to set Social Security payments, a move that would modestly cut benefits, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Campaign Committee, attacked him for "t rying to balance this budget on the backs of seniors."

A grand bargain would have to entail entitlement reform about which Republicans are lukewarm, plus offsetting Democratic demands, plus raising the debt ceiling and reopening the government. Yet the Republicans floating the idea of a "grand bargain" don't seem prepared for the "bargain" part. On what planet is this route easier than a deal that is limited to resolving the government shutdown?

I have very low expectations for this Congress. I want them to keep the government open. I want them to avoid a default on our debt or other required payments. I'd like to see them unwind sequestration but I have no illusions that they will do so and I know that our ongoing, tepid recovery can withstand it.

Tax and entitlement reform can wait for another day, several years from now, when we have a different president and a different Congress. For now, let's just try to focus on not breaking things.



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