Why the Gang of Six Matters

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Slate's John Dickerson takes the new Gang of Six plan (whose details are still sketchy) more seriously than TNR's Jonathan Chait. Dickerson says a small bargain is no easier to get than a grand one, so you might as well be ambitious:

So now that McConnell's face-saving deal looks as hard to get as the big deal, the big deal is back in play (at least for this sliver of the news cycle). All along the president has been saying that since a small deal was just as hard as a big one, why not go for the big one and at least get the credit? Yes, such a deal would require some kind of creative tax solution that would appeal to the president's desire for balance. But it would also allow fiscal hawks to point to a big amount of savings as well as cuts in entitlement spending, which they have long sought.

Chait says the House Republicans will simply never agree to it:

In theory, you could image a minority of the House GOP caucus supporting such a plan along with a strong majority of Democrats. But remember that John Boehner needs the support of most House Republicans to keep his job. I suppose it's possible to imagine a sequence of events in which Boehner supports a Gang of Six-style Grand Bargain, it passes over the objection of most House Republicans, and then Boehner quickly discovers a burning desire to help humanity via a private sector job.

Barring such a scenario, I don't see how this goes anywhere.

I agree with Chait, mostly.

Much as I wish they would, I don't see how House Republicans can row back from their opposition to any and all revenue increases. But this does not mean that the Gang of Six resurgence is unimportant.

Its real significance--and the reason why Obama supported the new initiative so strongly (without knowing much about what it actually says)--is that it increases the risk to the House Republicans of refusing to agree to any deal. With an authoritative bipartisan proposal back in play, rejecting any and all compromise is a little harder to sustain: the House GOP looks even less reasonable and even more isolated. The political pressure on them to accede to a McConnell-like outcome (which calls for no increase in revenues) thus increases.

In other words, the (apparent) revival of the grand bargain improves the (actual) chances for a small bargain.

My column for the FT this week looks at the extraordinary political risk the GOP is taking over the debt ceiling. 

Many Tea Party activists scoff at the Treasury's deadline of August 2 to break the debt-ceiling impasse. They are relaxed about letting the quarrel drag on beyond that. Some say the ceiling should not be raised in any case. The US has borrowed too much already. Let the government default. Perhaps that will focus attention, finally, on the underlying problem.

This mindset carries the seeds of the GOP's destruction. If the government does default, and if Tea Party intransigence puts the blame for this historic calamity squarely on the Republicans, how long might it be before the GOP is trusted with power again? Mr Obama's Democrats could sweep back to unchecked control of government next year. The Tea Party, having come from nowhere to exercise such influence in the space of two years, would be driven from the public square.

Somewhere in the recesses of their minds, Tea Party activists surely understand this. Don't they?

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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