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Hooray! A secret budget deal

This isn’t how it’s supposed to work, but saner heads have devised various extra-constitutional (but technically not unconstitutional) workarounds to get a budget deal done. 

John Boehner went public with the budget deal earlier today.
REUTERS/Gary Cameron

The White House and representatives of both houses of Congress have worked out a secret deal (although it hasn’t been secret that they were working on something like this) to avoid shutdown brinksmanship and debt-default brinksmanship for two years.

John Boehner went public with it today. It’s full of trade-offs, which means there’s also stuff in there for purists in both parties to hate. And, of course, this is very, very far from the way things are supposed to work in our form of government. It basically removes almost everything the government does from the regular order of things, moving from a presidential budget proposal through committees in both houses, then to the floors of both houses, then to the White House for a signature or veto.

Technically, all the secret negotiations will be cleansed of these problems when the deal passes both houses, which, at the moment, seems likely.

When he announced his resignation, Boehner had said that he hoped to “clean out the barn” before he left office so his successor (whom we now know to be Paul Ryan) won’t be immediately faced with a series of hostage crises in which he has to choose between shutdown/debt limit brinksmanship preferred by the Republican far right or having to give up his most powerful bargaining chips just to avoid those crises — and risk a palace coup for doing so.

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For his part, Ryan denounced the process used to produce the deal. “Stinks” was the word he used. But he specified that this was about the process. I wouldn’t be too surprised if he’s pretty happy about the cleaner barn he will inherit.

Here’s an overview of what’s in the deal.

Here’s how Boehner explained his thinking in cutting this deal (as reported in this New York times update): “This deal isn’t perfect by any means – but everyone should acknowledge what our alternative was,” he said. “If we didn’t reach a bipartisan budget agreement, we would have been forced to accept another ‘clean’ debt ceiling increase.”

Translation: Boehner acknowledges that refusing to raise the debt ceiling and risking a default on the national debt cannot be allowed to happen and that, if it did happen, Republicans would be blamed. By making this deal, he gets concessions from the White House and the Democrats in Congress on certain Republican priorities, notably on more military spending and modest cuts in Medicare and Social Security spending for the disabled.

Those concessions are, of course, precisely the things that will force Democrats to hold their noses as they mostly go along with the deal. The Republican right will not like this because the concessions aren’t nearly big enough to slow down the Democrats’ efforts to destroy America. Presumably, hard-liners in both parties will vote against this, but it will likely pass without their votes.

As a way of doing business, this should be an outrage. But I say “hooray” anyway. Forgive me if you’ve heard this before, but ours is — structurally, because of the many choke points on the way to passing a law — the most gridlock-prone system in the world. So it requires bipartisan compromise more than almost any other system. But compromise has become a dirty word on the Republican right.

So, to avoid various threatened catastrophes and hostage-taking situations, saner heads have devised various extra-constitutional (but technically not unconstitutional) workarounds for regular order. This is the latest example, and I hope it will turn out to be one of the good ones.

The next question is whether, as a way of doing business, this will become the new normal.