Budget Roulette

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Ball landing in red, number 7, on roulette wheel, close-up

HALPERIN’S TAKE: Why leaders don’t always get followed.

It seems almost certain now that the latest continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown will have to go to the House floor without the votes in hand for it to pass, and that it will require a joint whip operation to get enough Republican and Democratic votes combined to reach a majority.

We’ve seen the movie before (with the first TARP, for instance) where the leadership of both parties and the White House strike a deal, and the press covers the deal like it is an agreed-to law. Then, democracy takes over and the rank and file rebel on both the left and the right and the center doesn’t hold and the pact goes down. That always leads to chaos and a desperate attempt to keep the house of cards from tumbling down as it is tweaked to try to win over enough new votes (without losing old ones).

We could be headed towards a deal opposed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the tea party and every Republican presidential candidate, but that passes with the support of Speaker Boehner, Senator McConnell, and lots of Democrats.

In the meantime, the CR fight is a first act not worthy of the rest of the play, since entitlements and taxes must be dealt with before too long. Look at how Republicans jumped all over the Democrats after the Hill published a story about how some Democratic Senators want to put a range of tax boosters in the budget for ’12. And at how Democrats such as Harry Reid keep beating up Republicans for talking about Social Security reform.

Of all the reasons for the president to step up his involvement in these talks, trying to tamp down the attack politics and foster a climate of compromise is the best.

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