With the fiscal cliff in the rearview mirror and looming fights over the debt ceiling, sequestration and several cabinet-level nominations, let’s review some overlooked lessons from the fiscal cliff.
- There is a small, but persistent core of sane Republicans: Jonathan Chait just wrote a brilliant piece about the fiscal cliff applying negotiating lessons from The Big Lebowski. Chait compares the fiscal cliff to the conflict between The Dude and Walter over the kidnapping of Bunny by the Nihilists. Chait points out that Walter — much like Harry Reid — was ultimately right that there never really was a hostage crisis. There are just enough Republicans willing to avoid fiscal disaster that a deal could always be reached. As the White House looks forward, the 85 House Republicans who voted with the Democrats last week should be micro-targeted.
- John Boehner was weakened over the smallest part of the deal: It now appears that the Tea Party coup against John Boehner was more extensive than previously thought. Because of the structure of the House, even if the White House secured enough Republican defectors to pass their plan, Boehner’s cooperation is needed to even get a bill to the floor of the House (the curiosity of a discharge petition aside). The sequestration and debt ceiling are arguably more dire than the tax component of the fiscal cliff, and Boehner got battered so badly over the tax component that he’s publicly signaled that he won’t try to reach private deals with the White House going forward. Time may prove that the tax deal we celebrated last week was a Pyrrhic victory that crippled a needed ally in Boehner. I don’t blame the White House for this…I think they legitimately believed Boehner had a tighter grip on the House than he really does.
- The Senate is still a sobering influence: For all the filibustering and posturing, the Senate remains the more serious legislative body in Washington. George Washington is said to have told Jefferson that the framers had created the Senate to “cool” House legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea. Granted that structure made more sense where the Senate was not directly elected, but even after the Senate transitioned to direct elections it remained more collegial. While that collegiality has eroded in recent years, it remains leaps and bounds ahead of the House. No matter what fire and brimstone Republican Senators spout on Sunday talk shows, they will most likely fall in line when the final vote is taken.