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Posted at 9:43 AM ET, 03/ 9/2011

John Boehner has a plan

By Ezra Klein

You can sum up John Boehner’s strategy right now in four words: One at a time. Or, as his spokesman, Michael Steel, said in response to Democrats who wanted to merge the funding bill for 2011 into a broader conversation about deficit reduction, “we need to crawl before we can walk, and that means finishing last year’s business and complete a spending bill.”

It’s a very smart play: The threat behind the current fight is the possibility of a government shutdown. Democrats want to avoid that, while quite a few Republicans think it might be a good idea. In order to keep the government’s lights on, Boehner is demanding more than $60 billion in cuts for the rest of this year — a number that’ll destroy between 200,000 and 700,000 jobs, depending on whether you use Ben Bernanke’s estimate or Mark Zandi’s model.

In two months, we reach the debt ceiling. The threat here is even worse: the government defaults, throwing markets into chaos and strangling the recovery in his crib. More than 70 House Republicans have already signed a letter opposing a rise in the debt ceiling, and Jim DeMint is pushing the same line in the Senate. Boehner doesn’t want to see a default, but in order to avoid one, he’ll again demand huge concessions from the Democrats.

And then, as we finish off the year, we’ll need to pass legislation funding the government in 2012. Once again, the threat is a shutdown, and that gives Republicans leverage to demand major concessions from the Democrats.

Boehner wants to keep each of these separate, because each one is an opportunity to demand more and larger concessions from the Democrats. Democrats need to bring them together, which is part of why they’re trying to slide the 2011 spending bill into a larger deficit-reduction conversation that can also include a rise in the debt limit. At the moment, this — and not specific spending bills — is the key fight in deciding what the next year’s fiscal policy will look like.

By Ezra Klein  | March 9, 2011; 9:43 AM ET
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I don't see how Boehner wins on any of those fights if they happen.

Consequently, I don't see why anybody would bend over backwards to help him avoid losing.

The line is "John Boehner wants to cut 700,000 jobs. We don't."

Is that so hard?

Posted by: pj_camp | March 9, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I don't see how a Govt. shutdown helps Republicans. I think that most people will miss government services...i think a government shutdown will be better for Democrats. Dems should have the leverage

Posted by: Mazzi455 | March 9, 2011 10:14 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Mazzi455. The Republicans are sprinting toward a ginormous showdown, and the Dems should steel their spines and step out of the way.

Posted by: scarlota | March 9, 2011 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Boehner's tactics remind me of the scene in Blazing Saddles where the sherrif points the gun at himself... The Democrats are acting the part of the stupid townspeople who believe him.

Posted by: EducatingTheFools | March 9, 2011 10:22 AM | Report abuse

In the history of the United States government, the first Government Shutdown began under a Republican president, President Ronald Reagan. This fact does not surprise me, as we get a lot of firsts with Pres. Ronald Reagan, most of them which has negatively effected the United States.

Posted by: wdsoulplane | March 9, 2011 10:23 AM | Report abuse

What in most people's day to day lives gets effected by a short-term shutdown? I'm too young to remember much about the last time.

Posted by: Nylund154 | March 9, 2011 10:40 AM | Report abuse

"John Boehner has a plan"

Read this, and thought "the Cylons have a plan."

On topic, I can't see a shutdown helping the Republicans. At some point, people will start to wonder: "hey, where are the jobs? Why are these people wrangling about austerity and cutting the budget? It's been three months, after all? What? This bill will shed 700k jobs?!" It's the same mistake the dems made by focusing on health care. Also, the now apparent overreach in Wisconsin will serve as an unpleasant example of what they are really trying to do, which also might taint their "noble" cause.

Posted by: arm3 | March 9, 2011 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Normally I'm not the type of person that talks about President Obama needing to make a big stand, but I think this is the time for one. He should get out there with some bold proposals for cutting the deficit over the next ten or twenty years by attacking tax expenditures and military. He should put taxes and more entitlement reforms on the table.

Fighting the same battle three times while the other side bleeds you dry will never result in either good policies or good politics. We need to make the first fight so costly for the Republicans that they don't want to fight about it two more times.

Posted by: MosBen | March 9, 2011 10:54 AM | Report abuse

previously posted on another site by me.

I'm trying to connect all the dots between WI negotiations (or not), health-care reform (show me a better plan and we will go with it. AKA put up or shut up) and the budget battle going on in Washington.

My thought is that the Liberals should make an honest offer to the Conservatives that they will allow a given cut in spending in return for a given revenue enhancement (tax increase, removing a tax cut, or removing a tax credit/subsidy, etc) dollar for dollar. The argument is that to really address deficit spending we must look at both sides of the balance sheet. To use the kitchen-table analogy, quite often a family faced with too much debt will not only try to reduce spending, cutting out non-essential spending, but also looking for ways to increase income, like getting a second job.

So, if the Conservatives go after some spending program, the Liberals go after some tax cut/credit/subsidy. Then there has to be compromise on both sides. There would also be a real unveiling of loyalties (on both sides). For example, would the Conservatives be willing to let go of the subsidies to Big Oil, or Pharma, in exchange for the cuts they want to make to make in the bill now before them in Congress? I don't know. Maybe they would. Maybe not. But it make for more transparency and it would make both sides negotiate. This is the missing piece in ALL of politics today. There is no negotiation. It is "My way or the highway" coming from both sides.

Posted by: paulyheins | March 9, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

But what is the long-term plan. You can't get our debt under control without addressing healthcare costs and tax revenue. But only the Democrats and Obama have offered any serious plans (the ACA and ending Bush era tax cuts). Of course more needs to be done but as you have stated cutting healthcare cost is not easy. Sure you can put into place a hard cap or give out vouchers, but that doesn't reduce cost, it just shifts it - the magic asterisks, as Krugman likes to say.

And this fact - no stated Republican plan to deal with healthcare cost and revenue- is what is most frustrating about the current state of political affairs. In the past, there were some proposals on the table that one could judge based on its merits. That's no longer the case. Which makes me believe that the modern Republican Party is only interested in maintaining power. And if power is the only objective, corruption is the most likely outcome. And that's a huge problem.

Recently there has been a debate in some of the progressive blogs about the takeover of the machines. At the heart of the discussion is what can the government do to grow the economy and that perhaps “winning the future” via investments in higher education aren’t the answer. Your readers can decide for themselves what the government can do. But I strongly believe that one thing that government has to do is avoid widespread corruption. When I look at the world, it seems the more corrupt the government is the worse the economic conditions and growth are for the general population. And it appears as if we are headed the same way if Republicans get their way. Power for powers sake always generally leads to perverse outcomes. Hopefully I am wrong.

Posted by: rfjohnson77 | March 9, 2011 12:09 PM | Report abuse

I tend to agree with MosBen in terms of the tactic he suggests. It wouldn't be difficult to get to a similar (or larger) number in terms of deficit reduction if all spending was on the table - defense would be my preference right now. At this point the dems are playing it safe by discussing this in such narrow terms so 60 billion in cuts seems much larger than 5 billion, even though both cuts are negligible in a long-term sense. By expanding the discussion you can generate good sound bites - large numbers in terms of spending reduction - while also delving in to more serious reform.

Posted by: snargy2 | March 9, 2011 1:07 PM | Report abuse

You could also try to turn it into a "your deficit reduction plan costs more jobs than mine" fight. As in... "The Republican Plan saves $60B over one year and kills 500,000 jobs immediately. The Democratic Plan saves $1 Trillion over 10 years and kills 50,000 jobs each year for the next 10 years."

Oh, and MosBen is right as usual. If you face 2 fights where the first guy can break your nose but if you lose you have to fight the second guy who can kill you, then you better win the first fight.

Posted by: BHeffernan1 | March 9, 2011 1:42 PM | Report abuse

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