Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) came up with a signature phrase to describe the bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling. “This is a Satan sandwich, no doubt about it,” the Congressional Black Caucus chairman said. “With Satan fries on the side,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added. Pelosi was a yes vote, perhaps confirming conservative suspicions about her dietary preferences.
Not everyone on the left was willing to have their Satan sandwich and eat it too. The New York Times editorialized that the debt deal was a “nearly complete capitulation to the hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists.” “We have given much and received nothing in return,” lamented Rep. Raul Grijalva. “The lesson today is that Republicans can hold their breath long enough to get what they want.”
Arianna Huffington worried on MSNBC that the bill showed political compromise was dead. “”I think this is a real breakdown of our political system,” she said. In the Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky said simply, “Obama Gives It All Away.” Paul Krugman concluded Obama had “thrown all that away,” like the old Genesis song. Grijalva argued the agreement “trades people’s livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals.”
Except the supposed “unappeasable right-wing radicals” were mostly unappeased. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Marco Rubio (R-FL), some of the legislators most associated with the Tea Party, announced their opposition. Center-hugging Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty joined Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann in denouncing the deal. In the House, Paul and Bachmann joined such Tea Party lawmakers as Reps. Joe Walsh (R-IL), Paul Broun (R-GA), and Tim Scott (R-SC) in voting against it.
The Club for Growth and Heritage Action joined MoveOn.org and the Congressional Progressive Caucus in coming out swinging against the plan. Even Republicans like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina slammed its spending cuts as mostly illusory, except insofar as they targeted the Pentagon. “This agreement adds over $7 trillion in new debt over the next decade and only makes small reductions in future spending,” Graham said in a statement. “We hardly address the future growth of entitlements, a major contributor of future budgetary problems.” But “the consequences to our nation’s defense infrastructure would be severe.”
Rand Paul sounded similar themes. In an open letter spelling out his opposition to the compromise, he said that the spending cuts were too small, too slow, and too backloaded. He also noted the increase in the national debt and the fact that it made it easier to raise the debt ceiling in the future. “To paraphrase Jim DeMint: When you’re speeding toward the edge of a cliff, you don’t set the cruise control,” Paul said. “You stop the car.”
While liberals saw the measure as shredding the social safety net, conservative skeptics disliked that it would leave Obamacare, the failed stimulus, and the massive federal bailouts intact. Liberals felt they gave away everything while conservatives believed they got nothing. On Twitter and in the blogosphere, many conservatives gleefully embraced Cleaver’s description of the debt hike as a sugar-coated Satan sandwich. Both sides were insistent that their leaders could have gotten a better deal.
In exchange for increasing the debt ceiling through the 2012 presidential election, the deal purports to contain $917 billion in spending cuts with no tax increases. A joint committee will meet to identify another $1.5 trillion in cuts, with at least the theoretical possibility of tax increases, or triggers will kick in some $1.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary spending, on both security and non-security related expenditures. Toss in $156 billion in reduced interest payments on the debt and the Congressional Budget Office believes it will result in $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction over ten years.
Needless to say, there remains a great deal of debate over the hastily thrown together details. In the end, the strange bedfellows’ left-and-right opposition couldn’t overcome the heroic return of Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), the lobbying of both parties’ leadership teams, and Washington’s collective sense that something must be done by midnight on August 2. The supposed non-compromise split House Democrats right down the middle and won majority Republican support. At press time, the Senate awaits its turn to ratify the deal and then try to avoid hard budget votes in the future.
So we have a debt deal that may lead to real spending cuts, even if it leaves the main driver of the debt untouched. It may sharply cut defense spending but not raise taxes. Or it may lead to tax increases in the future. Or maybe it won’t do much of anything at all, if the projections turn out to be even a little off. And it is hard to imagine Democrats and Republicans agreeing to much more.
However this turns out, it shows that both parties may have gotten us into this mess. But except at the margins, don’t expect them to join forces in getting us out.