So the talks are broken down again. It's not exactly a surprise; the odds have always been good that any deal, whether it's a Grand Bargain or something like the clean McConnell that gives the GOP only symbolic gains, will happen at the last minute. Remember, almost all of what we're seeing is either bargaining, spin, or some other form of posturing or misinformation. That's not bad -- but it is what it is, and there's no point in pretending that it's anything else.
Meanwhile, in a post over at the other place earlier today, I pointed out that the eventual deal, should there be one (and sooner or later there will be some sort of deal) will wind up a lot closer to the Democrats’ ideal position than to the GOP perfect spot. I owe an explanation for that, so here it is, in three parts.
The first is the most obvious. President + Senate > House. Republicans may have the most recent electoral triumph, and that may give them some advantages (what would be called intangibles in the sports world – often because they don’t exist). But the bottom line is that control of one branch of Congress is a much worse bargaining position than control of the presidency plus a majority, albeit a slim one, in the Senate.
The second is easily overlooked but terribly important: Democrats have the status quo on their side. The US political system makes change hard, and movement conservatives want an enormous amount of change. Mostly, Democrats just have to block it. Democrats, of course, do want quite a few changes of their own, few if any of which they’re going to get anytime soon, but those changes are nowhere near the magnitude of those in the Paul Ryan budget or current GOP-endorsed version of a constitutional amendment.
And third is that popular opinion just isn’t on the Republicans’ side. The story here is complicated if we’re talking about small shifts from current levels of government – most people report wanting a smaller government in the abstract, but most people also think that most individual government programs should be larger. There are a lot of different ways to interpret that reasonably, anywhere from arguing that the public is with the Democrats when they want to modestly increase the size and scope of the federal government, or with the Republicans when they want to pare it back a bit. But the public clearly wouldn’t support socialism, and it clearly doesn’t support repealing the Great Society and the New Deal. That puts public opinion far closer to where the Democrats are (since, just to point it out, even the putatively socialist Bernie Sanders doesn’t actually appear to favor government ownership of much more than health insurance).
Put it all together, and we’re certain to get something a lot closer to Henry Waxman’s or Tom Harkin’s or ideal world than Rand Paul’s or Paul Ryan’s.