To: House Republican Caucus
From: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor
Re: Why We Will Come Out Ahead
I know it looks just terrible for us right now. Our caucus is badly split, we are getting killed in the polls, we have had to drop the demand to defund Obamacare, all the corporate leadership is mad at us for playing roulette with the debt, and there are even some likely primary challenges from mainstream business Republicans to our Tea Party incumbents.
But fear not. We may lose a battle, but we will win this war. Why? Barack Obama will save us. He always does.
In the end game, we will agree to reopen with government with a continuing resolution and we will allow an extension of the debt for several months. But in return, President Obama will finally put on the table a version of the Grand Bargain for deeper cuts in social spending.
That means cuts in Social Security and Medicare and in other domestic programs. Obama has already put the so-called chain-weighted CPI, a disguised cut in Social Security, in his own budget. So that is the starting point for our negotiations. And of course we will steadfastly refuse to raise taxes.
On domestic discretionary spending, the current spending budget that Obama has accepted is already below the level of the Paul Ryan budget!
With these negotiations, the next budget will be even lower.
For now, we are getting something of a black eye in the press, but our long-term strategy is working.
We get to do this again and again and again. Each time, President Obama gives a little more ground. Each time, we ratchet down government spending even further.
If you think our caucus is split, imagine the rage of the liberals in the House!
At this rate, by the time Obama leaves office, Democrats as the party that defends social programs that people actually value will be finished. The government really will be so small, as our friend Grover Norquist famously said, that we can drown it in a bathtub.
Even when Obama has the cards, as he did in the case of the New Years 2013 "Fiscal Cliff" deal, we can count on him to fold. In that case, if Congress had taken no action, taxes would have risen on everyone. He had us by the throat. But he settled for a deal that modestly increased taxes only the top 1 percent, while the hike in Social Security taxes on wages raised twice as much money! Not bad for sheer bluff on our part. Even Norquist, the enforcer of the no-tax pledge, advised us to take the deal.
And what about Obamacare? Don't we look weak for failing to kill it? Won't people like it, once it is in effect?
Think again. The mess that the administration made with the rollout was partly our doing, but it was partly a function of the law's sheer complexity and the fact that the government contracted out the software design. It's still screwed up.
Obamacare also has the effect of accelerating the trend of employers cutting back on company-provided health insurance. As people lose health coverage as a fringe benefit, we can blame Obamacare and say that we told you so. For most voters, Obamacare doesn't change much, and the long-term trend leaves people with worse health care. We can blame that on Obamacare, too.
But what about the damage to our reputation with the voters? Won't this "obstructionism" kill us in the 2014 mid-terms? Not necessarily.
Voter reputations are short. Having stonewalled, we now look responsible for compromising. The press will soon resume its usual habit of playing these complex and wonky issues as "partisan bickering" and the equal fault of both sides.
Turnout in mid-terms is always low. The electorate that shows up in November 2014 will be more like the one that gave us a great win in 2010 than the one that produced the Obama re-election in 2012. And six years into an incumbency is always bad for the incumbent's party.
Obama looks weak and he infuriates his base once again by giving up more than he needs to. That depresses the Democrats' energy. And thanks to our friends on the Supreme Court, the Democrats will have a much harder time registering black and Latino voters.
So hang tough, my friends. A month from now, we will be riding high.
Obama is effective on the campaign trail but as a legislative negotiator we can usually count on him to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. The irony is that all Obama had to do was resist our demands for more budget concessions and we would have had to fold.
Robert Kuttner's new book is Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. He is co-editor of The American Prospect and a senior Fellow at Demos.