When you negotiate from a position of weakness, you get a lousy deal. When it's the best you can do, then the best you can do is make the deal and move on. That was the position President Joe Biden was in when he sat down with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to avoid a fiscal disaster.
Maybe the debt ceiling is unconstitutional. Maybe it isn't. But the courts weren't going to save Biden, and the U.S. economy, from the consequences of what would look like a default in a matter of days from now if he couldn't get a deal, and he would be blamed for it, which would be far worse than the blame for a less than ideal deal, which is what he faces now.
It is, sadly, that simple.
Biden needed a deal.
And he didn't have the bargaining power to get a better deal.
So he settled for the best he could do.
Put off the debt ceiling for two years.
Protect the third rails of Medicare and Social Security.
Protect the very most vulnerable Americans.
Limit work requirements for the oldest and most vulnerable Americans.
Do tax loopholes get closed? No.
Does the IRS get the money it needs to make sure everyone is paying their fair share? No.
Do the Trump tax cuts get reversed? No.
Is it fair? No.
So why should Democrats vote for it?
Because they lost the House. Democrats don't have enough votes to pass a budget plan that they favor. The Republican plan would be even worse. Biden's bad deal is the best he could do. There is no reason to think otherwise. Because for Biden, a bad deal is better than no deal at all.
Those who are angry at Biden, the bipartisan compromiser, should remember who the president is, who he ran as, who he has always been: a bipartisan compromiser. He didn't run as a flaming liberal. He ran as a flaming moderate, which may be why he won, and surely is who he is.
He was not the guy to risk a constitutional crisis, although he might well raise the question to be decided for the future. But not when economic chaos could hang in the balance.
Now it is up to the whips in the Congress to deliver. I always get nervous when politicians start talking about what the "American people" want, as if anyone can speak for a monolith, let alone one as divided as we are.
But surely if there is one idea that unites us, it is that Congresspeople should behave like adults and not squabbling children. Intraparty squabbling is no more attractive than interparty fights; it only creates more bruises, more losers, more antipathy.
Biden's desire to avoid a default seems far more in tune with the mood of the "American people" than that of the hard right and the hard left who are willing to go to war for what they want.
The perfect is the enemy of the good, or the good enough. Neither side got everything it wanted in the deal. From the Democratic perspective, some of the compromises -- like cutting IRS enforcement efforts, which would actually generate revenue -- seem strangely shortsighted, meant to meet formulaic commitments rather than common sense.
Tell that to the voters in November. That's how democracy works. Make it a voting issue if you can. But between now and then, Biden's goal is to avoid economic uncertainty and potential crisis and the plague on all our houses that will follow.
Susan Estrich is a politician, professor, lawyer and writer. Whether on the pages of newspapers such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post or as a television commentator on countless news programs on CNN, Fox News, NBC, ABC, CBS and NBC, she has tackled legal matters, women's concerns, national politics and social issues. Read Susan Estrich's Reports — More Here.
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