They Didn't Even Put Up a Fight: How the GOP Came to Fear Obama


The last hurdle to a clean debt ceiling increase, Ted Cruz's proposed second rendering of "Green Eggs and Hams", was soundly defeated in the Senate today, though all the Republicans who voted to rob Cruz of the opportunity to filibuster then turned around and voted to default the United States. That latter vote was inconsequential, of course, as 55 Democrats voted to do the responsible thing and pay America's bills.

The bill was already passed by the House with a smattering of Republicans joining the Democratic minority, as LL reported here earlier in the week, and the president will sign it. But this debt ceiling skirmish smelled and looked different from the ones Republicans have put up in the past two and a half years that they have been in charge of the US House. This one not only has a taste of bitter defeat for the Republicans, it has the hint of resignation. I can't call it a fight, because they didn't even put up a fight.

For one thing, this one was done well ahead of time. Though the debt limit was only technically suspended until February 7, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew announced that extraordinary measures employed by his department would carry us to February 27 without having any bills go unpaid. That made the 27th the real deadline. In each of the previous occasions, Republicans have pushed as close to the deadline as possible before eventually caving. Even after they shut down the government in October, they did not resolve it until a mere 24 hours to go before hitting the debt ceiling.

And, unlike last time, the extension that just passed Congress doesn't last a mere 3 months. It lasts a whole year - actually, 13 months. This isn't just a cave, this is a broad surrender without preconditions.

So why the surrender so soon this time? Why do I smell resignation along with sweet surrender? It could be that Republicans have learned their lesson from the October shutdown and the public backlash that followed. It could be that Republican power brokers and Wall Street's moneybags grew tired of the constant brinksmanship that not only shook America's confidence in a working federal government but tanked the markets and cost them money. It could be that the larger GOP is trying to extricate itself from the Tea Party, if not before the 2014 elections then before 2016.

But I believe it's more than that. I smell fear. Fear of Barack Obama. The GOP - at least the GOP establishment - may finally be learning something: President Obama means what he says, and says what he means.

If you read news accounts, you will believe that Boehner got pushed into shutting down the government and bringing us to the brink of economic catastrophe by Ted Cruz and his Tea Party allies. While partly true, one would be a fool to believe it to be the whole story. The Republican establishment, not just the Tea Party, saw the culmination of government funding and debt ceiling deadlines as an opportunity for hostage taking that they truly believed would force the Democrats and the president to pay some form of ransom. They did not learn their lessons when the president handily beat them in the 2011 debt ceiling deal, and they did not believe the president when he said, repeatedly, that he would not negotiate over Congress' responsibility to pay the bills it racked up.

They really believed that if their squeeze was tight enough, the president and the Democrats would budge. They were willing to pay the price in the public opinion polls, but they were determined to extract some concession from the president - if not for their idiotic opposition to health care reform then for the petty idea that they would have forced Barack Obama to eat his words after promising not to negotiate.

But they ran up against a superbly unified Democratic party - on this issue at least - behind the president who insisted that Republicans did not get to extract a ransom for allowing Congress to conduct its most basic function. The public outrage grew and grew against the GOP, and yet for the heavy price they paid, they were able to extract exactly nothing from the president. It was a complete and utter humiliation for the Republicans. In that humiliation, the GOP established learned one thing: Barack Obama does not bluff.

And so, when the president again reiterated his position that there would be no negotiations over the debt limit, finally, this time, the GOP took him seriously. Or at least, they were afraid that he would break their political necks in an election year if they tried screwing with the debt ceiling again. For all the bluster from the GOP's ranks and elected officials about the president's supposed stubbornness, they knew well ahead of time that they had failed to sell America on the idea that the debt ceiling ought to be used as a cudgel to beat the president over the head with. And they knew that Barack Obama wasn't bluffing. That's why this surrender was swift, complete, and resigned.

The president has been clear about this from the beginning. He is willing to have all good faith input, and he will talk to anyone who has the best interest of the country at heart - regardless of their political affiliation. But dare to cross him and what's good for the country just for your political benefit and he will swat you like a fly.