In this time of tension and trouble, it's rare to have good news to bring you, but today I'm happy to say I have some: The "Grand Bargain" is still dead. Pour a drink and toast, America, because it's not all bad!
The news came to me in the form of this story in The Washington Post, titled, "White House, Republican senators give up on budget talks." And like I said, it's "not all bad," which means there are some regrettable things of which to bring you word.
First, these talks were geared toward avoiding a government shutdown in the near future and a debt ceiling apocalypse in the not-quite-as-near future. As it stands, that tension remains. Though there are some mitigating factors. First of all, while various GOP senators have been working very hard to bring some maturity back to these debates, even if they'd been successful, the House of Representatives still exists, and efforts to bridge the budget impasses and come to a deal would have likely been for nought. So it's a loss, but not a great one.
And, as Jonathan Chait has been detailing, what House Speaker John Boehner seems to be ready and willing to do is simply steer his bath-salts caucus colleagues past the political disaster that would be a government shutdown. Of course, he's had to promise them the chance to have a go at creating a debt ceiling crisis. That's bad, because at that point, he runs out of worse Armageddons to which he can trade up.
Fortunately for everyone, the Obama White House has abandoned its previous position -- that the debt ceiling marked a good occasion to negotiate the budget -- and has reverted to the more traditional and responsible approach to the debt ceiling, which is to tell Congress, "There will be no negotiating on the debt ceiling."
The best thing, then, that we can say about the failure of these talks is that while they haven't improved anything for the budget impasse in the immediate sense, they've not made things worse. There is one area, however, in which you can be absolutely ecstatic that the talks foundered and failed. Per The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery:
Through multiple meetings with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the group discussed a range of options, including a "grand bargain" that would involve a complete restructuring of Medicare, according to people familiar with the meetings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.
Emphasis mine, because what a bullet America just dodged! Remember as always, that "Grand Bargain" is a euphemism for "further immiserating the American people," and that "complete restructuring of Medicare" is a euphemism for "gutting Medicare."
Do remember the following: The global austerity movement was founded on bunk math; we are living in a Golden Age of deficit reduction -- in fact the danger is that we are doing way too much, way too quickly; the most effective and consistent way to sustain low deficits is to reduce unemployment; and as Joe Weisenthal rather painstakingly detailed, everyone who talks about deficit reduction as a series of "painful choices" (for you, that is!) doesn't know what they are talking about.
Medicare, institutionally, has a lot of flaws, and even if the growth of health care costs continues to slow, much remains that must be addressed and fixed. But "reforming Medicare" is by definition, a "long-term policy goal" and not a "short-term crisis." Unemployment is a short-term crisis, and we should really get started tackling that one of these days. (Also, the effort to fix Medicare should do exactly that -- "fix" it. As opposed to ending it, or as Paul Ryan envisions, stopping paying for it by transforming it into a series of coupons that diminish in value over time until they are worthless.)
You should also remember that the "Grand Bargain" is not actually a piece of fiscal policy. It is, as Charles Pierce points out, simply "a deal for a deal's sake, a demonstration for the courtier press that Washington 'works.'"
Additionally, the people who are pushing strongest for the "Grand Bargain" are a bunch of what Alex Pareene correctly identifies as "centrist sociopaths." Like, for example, the editors of The Washington Post: "The Post uses the terms 'leveling with the public' and 'candor' to describe the act of telling regular people that the policy preferences of Washington's wealthy elite must take precedence over the economic security of the majority of Americans."
Any day that the Grand Bargain is deemed dead is a great day, because all of the right people are sad about it: the Post, Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Simpson, Bowles, the Fix The Debt hucksters and the Leadership Surrealists. When these people are unhappy, normal human Americans should feel free to rejoice. In fact, the bottom line is that the chances that working- and middle-class Americans might one day enjoy economic security rise in inverse proportion to how optimistic this aforementioned group of grifters are.
So this is some rare good news for you, America. And hey, three-day weekend coming up as well? Beat that with a stick!