Through all of this, we get the idea that it is Democrats, not Republicans, who have the upper hand in these negotiations, even though the public is not on their side and the nation is in ever-deeper trouble mostly because of Democratic policies. We also get this uneasy feeling that to some in the leadership, the battle with Democrats is as much about positioning and reaching some kind of deal as it is about advancing the underlying causes. It's a sense that we often get from those who have been inside the Beltway too long.
House Republicans did pass a bill containing $61 billion in spending cuts, but most conservatives and tea party activists believe it wasn't enough. The Virginia tea partyers are particularly displeased with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who opposed an amendment for even deeper cuts (5.5 percent across the board for non-security discretionary spending).
Now we're coming up on another deadline, and congressional Republicans are presenting yet another continuing resolution, which contains $6 billion in spending cuts but doesn't, any more than the previous CR, include so-called "policy riders" that would address important issues, such as defunding Obamacare and Planned Parenthood.
The maddening irony is that Republicans seem to be ensuring that history repeats itself precisely because they are behaving as if they fear that history will repeat itself. We can only assume that they're looking back in horror at Bill Clinton's deceptive PR triumph over Newt Gingrich in effectively pinning the government shutdown on congressional Republicans. Utterly paranoid of being scapegoated by Obama for a current-day impasse leading to a shutdown, they are acquiescing to ongoing temporary Band-Aid budgets that, despite the budgetary cuts they contain, are improving the Democrats' long-term negotiating position and thus -- and more importantly -- imperiling their efforts to slash the actual budget.
I believe that Republicans are severely miscalculating the public mood. We are no longer in the '90s; we face a nation-threatening debt crisis, and Republicans' primary opponent is a weak president who is doing more to exacerbate our problems than he is to solve them. A government shutdown would not be the end of the world, but the GOP's failure to act emphatically on spending could be -- so to speak.
One unfortunate constant is the Republicans' incapacity to handle their electoral prosperity. They need to take a lesson from Obama's playbook and start behaving as if they understand that "we won." They must get over their irrational fear of a government shutdown and negotiate as if they have the superior hand -- the will of the people -- because they do.