There is an episode of the original series of Star Trek in which the crew of the Enterprise gets swapped into a parallel universe due to transporter malfunction. In this Mirrorverse, good people are evil, right is wrong, logic is replaced with ambition, and Spock has a beard.
The Republican Party and President Obama are negotiating in the Mirrorverse.
A complete reversal of all known ideas of logic and common sense is the only explanation for the sort of shenanigans going on in Congress right now. From an outside perspective, watching the debt limit negotiations is like watching a car slowly drive towards the edge of the cliff at 25 miles per hour. Everyone can see the cliff is there, and while the people in the car can't agree which way to go, it seems obvious that they'll choose something before the car goes over.
And yet, the August 2 deadline default cliff is looming closer and closer while the House Republicans who have seized the wheel insist on driving straight forward. Default is no longer an abstract idea; it's a real threat which would tarnish the good name of the United States and plunge the economy into chaos. It's a much graver situation than a government shutdown, which Congress managed to avoid earlier this year. The financial world is paying attention; both Moody's and Standard and Poor's have threatened to downgrade America's debt rating over the looming crisis. Statistics guru Nate Silver points out that even if Congress doesn't default, this can have lasting consequences and once the financial markets begin to panic, it may be difficult for them to stop.
So why are the Republicans playing with such fire? That's where the Mirrorverse comes in. They have no reason -- literally -- to reject the increasingly one-sided deals that President Obama, clinging to unsubstantiated hopes of bipartisan compromise, has offered. From a Republican perspective, the debt negotiations have been one of the most successful enterprises in recent political history. During the political equivalent of negotiating at gunpoint, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and the freshmen Tea Partiers have managed to get President Obama to largely accept their "creative" (to put it euphemistically) theories that our debt problems are due entirely to spending on vital social programs, and have nothing to do with the irresponsible and unnecessary Bush tax cuts -- despite the fact that said tax cuts are the largest and most pointless contributors to the deficit. They have convinced the president to offer to cut $4 trillion from the budget over 10 years, more than double his original offer. He has even put Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security -- the backbone of Democratic platforms for half a century -- on the table.
At any other time, this level of cuts would -- and should -- be unthinkable for a Democrat to offer. (President Obama would do well to note that the victory of Kathy Hochul in the special election in NY-26 was largely to her promise to protect Medicare.) In exchange, the President is asking for the same things he has been asking for during the entire negotiations process: a cut in tax breaks for oil and gas industries and corporate jets, as well an end to ethanol subsidies. But you guessed it -- in this alternate universe, the Republicans are somehow, for some reason, saying no.
Why? Why, if Republicans brand themselves as "fiscally responsible", concerned about the debt, and truly think that social programs helping the needy are the source of our nation's problems, would they reject such a deal? The answer is that the Republican Party, despite their attempts to claim the medal of fiscal responsibility, has become the party of fiscal irresponsibility.
There are only two levers in a budget: revenue and spending The President has made enormous concessions on the spending side -- concessions so large that he might have serious trouble getting Congressional Democrats to agree with them. Their refusal to make even the slightest move on the revenue side is not principled. It does not make sense. It is irresponsible. And if it brings the United States to a default, that's as fiscally irresponsible as anyone could ever get - in fact, fiscally irresponsible in historic proportions.
The debt limit negotiations have forced the Republican Party to show their true colors. While they appear to have taken a flying leap off the deep end, they are actually holding fast to the only thing they really care about -- reelection. The Republican Party no longer stands for the principles of small government and limited spending - principles which I disagree with, but are principles nonetheless. If they really cared about the deficit and size of the government, they would recognize what a gift this deal is and take it. But because it would close shameful tax loopholes their major donors rely on, they are rejecting it, and in the process threatening to bring down the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.
But Republicans have left themselves an escape hatch from default, and it is this mechanism which shows most clearly how utterly hypocritical and morally bankrupt the Republican Party is. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell has created a gimmick by which Congress would approve a vote not to raise the debt ceiling, which President Obama would then veto, allowing the debt ceiling to rise, but putting all the blame for the unpopular decision on the President. As a justification for his plan, Senator McConnell has voiced concerns that a default would hurt the "brand" of the Republican Party. (Also the global economy, but that's apparently not as pressing.) Sure, the Republicans would have to give up unprecedented concessions in the size and structure of our nation's spending. But as long as they don't have to take any political heat, while at the same time damaging the President's chances for reelection, they could care less about accomplishing any conservative goals. Ideology comes in at a distant second to job security. (If only the GOP cared as much about the job security of everyone else in America...)
At the end of the day, Republicans should be hoping that their party takes President Obama's offer and deals a major blow to our social safety net. Democrats should hope that the negotiations remain at an impasse and the President must take Senator McConnell's option. It doesn't make any sense. But then, nothing does in the Mirrorverse.