Assuming no deal, here’s what I’m told is likely to happen after everyone has acknowledged the collapse. The Republicans will, as John McCain and others have suggested, turn up the heat on the question of defense cuts. They will introduce legislation to exempt the Pentagon from cuts. Now remember—these cuts to the Pentagon, 15 percent, were agreed to by both parties in the August debt-ceiling deal. But Republicans, being the clever dialecticians that they are, will decide that the course of history has changed, and that deal will mean no more to them than one of those secret treaties Lenin routinely abrogated back in the day.
So they’ll advance a bill saying: cuts to domestic social programs, sure; cuts to Pentagon, nyet. It will pass the House. It will go to the Senate, and all the Republicans will be for it, and they’ll need 13 Democrats. So then the questions will be: will the Democrats be willing to hold the line and risk the silly accusation of being “soft on defense”? And will the White House also hold the line—bucking, of course, its own defense secretary, who agrees with the Republican position? I think we know the answer.
So the Republicans will have killed another deal with their indefensible and immoral position on taxes, and then, having stuffed that carcass in the trunk, they will retroactively work to kill the deal they agreed to last summer, and spend December demagoguing about how Democrats are going to leave America defenseless and throw hundreds of thousands of poor aeronautical engineers into the streets.