British actress Olivia Williams with sabre fish.
It’s a measure of how gullible the Beltway media are that when Rep. Paul Ryan held himself up as the guy to broker a GOP deal on the debt ceiling and government shutdown with President Obama last week, he was greeted as a potential savior. Nobody seemed to notice that he was trying to push much of his discredited Ryan budget on Democrats in exchange for Republicans simply doing their job: opening up government and avoiding a debt default.
As Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has belatedly begun reminding people, those are not concessions. Republicans say they want both things, and they should: their poll numbers are in the toilet and constituents are furious because of the government shutdown, and a debt ceiling would crater the economy.
But Ryan pushed anyway, as though he had a chance to force his terms on Obama and recalcitrant Democrats. That’s almost as delusional as former Vice President Dick Cheney saying we would be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq. But let’s give Cheney credit for one thing: He was elected vice president, twice. Ryan failed at that task a year ago and cannot be considered a serious candidate for national office.
The National Review’s Robert Costa, who is doing some of the best reporting on the House GOP, took issue with my calling Ryan “delusional” on MSNBC’s “Up with Steve Kornacki” Sunday morning. “I don’t think the word is delusional, because there was a moment last week when Ryan published that Wall Street Journal op-ed, the House was really leading the talks, and Ryan was engaging directly with the president. For a brief moment it seemed like Ryan could be the one to get his right flank to come along….Once Harry Reid really stepped into the fray, Paul Ryan’s whole influence over the process kind of evaporated.”
OK, but isn’t it a little bit delusional to believe Reid would stay out of the fray? Now comes news that Ryan has done a 180 and declared that House Republicans must fight whatever the Senate comes up with, even a compromise floated by GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that Reid has already rejected for giving up too much. While the Collins proposal would open the government for six months and lift the debt ceiling enough to get to January, it delays the medical device tax two years and sets other conditions on the Affordable Care Act. Reid insists the Senate won’t negotiate about the ACA or anything else under debt-ceiling/shutdown duress.
Ryan, who was savaged by some on the right last week for seeming to trade the goal of repealing Obamacare in exchange for Obama embracing most of the infamous Ryan budget, is now back to Obamacare. In fact, he’s insisting the House GOP shouldn’t back any deal that opens the government or extends the debt ceiling deadline without major changes to the Affordable Care Act, including letting employers withhold birth-control coverage from insurance plans for religious reasons.
Get it? They’re back to their crusade against birth control access. If that doesn’t define delusional, I’m not sure what does.
To be fair to Ryan, he dropped his politically toxic plan to voucherize Medicare in his latest proposal and mostly stuck to Medicare trimming that Obama himself had endorsed in the last round of grand bargain negotiating in 2011. While I think the president was willing to go too far to cut a deal – and may have been saved from himself by Republican insanity – it must be noted he was offering those cuts in exchange for major revenue increases. He was not offering them in exchange for the House and Senate GOP coming to its senses and doing its job, instead of holding the country hostage to pass legislative changes they can’t win enough political power to enact through legislation.
So yes, Ryan was always delusional – but now he’s even more so. The individual mandate will not be delayed, and the contraceptive provisions of the ACA will not be made optional. What’s dangerous is that Beltway reporters are so hungry for signs of GOP sanity that they hold up Ryan as reasonable, which feeds his own delusion that he’s politically crucial.
Now Ryan is really, really angry at Senate Republicans, according to NRO’s Jonathan Strong, and he’s going to take his ball and go home. “They’re trying to cut the House out, and trying to jam us with the Senate. We’re not going to roll over and take that,” Ryan told reporters on Saturday.
The only way this ends is the only way it ever was going to end: with House Speaker John Boehner, having let extremist GOP babies cry themselves out, finally passing a deal with the support of Democrats. And he shouldn’t count on them being the Democrats who approved the debt-ceiling “deal” that ultimately imposed sequester cuts, or the fiscal-cliff deal that compromised on tax rates and kicked those cuts down the road. On both the Senate and House side – where Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi openly frets that Democrats have “been enablers” of the “irresponsible” GOP – there’s a new tone of toughness. Let’s hope it holds.
Joan Walsh is Salon's editor at large and the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America." More Joan Walsh.
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