The sequester will hit at the first of March, which means that any attempt to defuse this rather weak set of budget cuts has to take place in the next two weeks. If that sounds familiar, it should; it’s basically the same kind of set-up we’ve seen through endless games of fiscal chicken. But what happens when only one person shows up to play that game? Politico reports that Harry Reid’s strategy is now to “corral” John Boehner back into White House bargaining rather than normal order budgeting. Oddly, though, they never really note the issue of normal order, even though Boehner has made it clear where he stands:
Washington’s latest budget rumpus is perhaps best understood as a Western in which Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid plays a Nevada buckaroo ranch foreman charged with driving the House Republicans back to the Oval Office corral for deficit talks with President Barack Obama.
Speaker John Boehner bolted before Christmas and is now threatening to let across-the-board spending cuts go into effect March 1. Reid must cut Boehner off at the pass and steer him back to the president, who left $600 billion in entitlement savings on the table in December.
Boehner bolted because his caucus revolted. They got tired of Boehner getting hammered in backroom negotiations on budgets while the Senate refused to pass one of their own. After having failed yet again to get Obama to budge on budget cuts, Boehner pledged that he would stop engaging in such extraordinary personal negotiations and insist on normal order — where both chambers draft bills, and then negotiations start between them with a conference committee. That puts House Republicans on the same level as Senate Democrats, and forces Obama to work through Reid rather than act as a third party in the legislating process.
And that’s paying some dividends, emphasis mine:
There’s a bit of serendipity to this script: Reid’s camp says he only fell into his role. But it is timely with Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night, and it helps explain the bill being drafted by the Senate Democrats to forestall the March cuts with a mix of new revenues and savings.
Final details have not been released, but the goal is to come up with enough deficit reduction to secure a seven-to-10-month window in which a larger deal with the White House — including entitlement savings and at least corporate tax reform — could be implemented.
Amusingly, the Politico story never once mentions “normal order” or the pledge Boehner made to adhere to it, even though it seems to be working well enough to get the Senate to produce legislation rather than insist on a backroom-deal first. Reid may still want to get back to the emergency model where he and Obama can attempt to overwhelm Boehner, but so far Boehner isn’t playing. And when one person plays chicken all alone, it doesn’t make for very good results, especially on the brink of self-created cliffs.