The GOP's Lost Debt Ceiling Opportunity

Though it would have benefited the White House, the "grand bargain" could have saved the Republicans from the mess they are now in.

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As we teeter closer to the edge of "Debtmageddon," it's worth pausing to recall the "grand bargain" between Republicans and the White House—the Deal that Almost Was

With no increases in individual tax rates and three dollars in cuts for every new dollar in revenue, could the House have swallowed it?

It's a question that answers itself: If House leaders are having difficulty pressing through a standalone Republican bill, a "grand bargain" never had a snowball's chance in the Sahara.

Sensing this, a new strategy unfolded: reframe the debt ceiling debate in terms of scoring a political victory against Democrats.

[Check out our cartoons on the federal budget and the deficit.]

This had potent visceral appeal. It won over superstar pundits like Charles Krauthammer as well as rank midlevel propagandists such as Jennifer Rubin ("the left will be demoralized"), Pete Wehner ("Obama Will Be Biggest Loser"), and Marc Thiessen ("a modest victory for Republicans, but a major defeat for Obama").

It almost worked—and it may yet.

But think of what might have been if commonsense prevailed over politics. What if these conservative commentators had spent this energy encouraging a compromise that would have benefited the White House, yes, but also would have gored the sacred cows of the left and yielded significant debt reduction as well as a relatively smaller government?

[Check out our cartoons on the GOP.]

Instead, they're left scrambling at the eleventh hour to isolate the "suicide bombers," who now hold all the cards. They could have been isolated weeks ago.

It would've necessitated compromising with Democrats, to be sure. But we're learning—the hard way—that this was always going to require compromise with Democrats.

  • See how the debt ceiling fight might affect congressional races in 2012.
  • See a collection of political cartoons on the Tea Party.
  • See a slide show of 6 consequences if the debt ceiling isn't raised.