In the classic tale, told both by Christopher Marlow and later by Goethe, Faust sells his soul to the devil, thinking he's made a great deal only to find out later what he's lost and how he's compromised himself. Today we're seeing that same storyline played out again and again, but this time by real people not fictional characters, they're finding themselves just as trapped.
There's a whole new group in Congress this session, the class of 2010. While new faces aren't abnormal, and each election often brings sea changes, most of the Republicans in this class tend to have one thing in common: they were elected by promising the Tea Party they would do the party's bidding. Specifically, they promised to lower the debt and oppose any attempt to reform or change the tax code in a way that raises taxes.
Now, that's a lofty promise, and it got many of them elected. However, now it's come time to pay the piper, and they're finding the dance unpaletable.
The debate/discussion/arguing over extending the debt ceiling has forced everyone in Congress, new and old, right and left, to decide how to vote. Because the Republican leadership has chosen to attach the vote to other things...an idea I don't necessarily oppose...it has become hopelessly entangled in a discussion about how to lower budget deficit, and there are only two options for that: cut spending and/or raise revenues.
Now, before we proceed, let's put one small thing to rest. Setting aside the freshman class, everyone else in Congress, Senators and Representatives alike, have voted on the very bills that are now coming due. Only Congress can approve a budget, and it is simply the job of the President to carry out that budget. So, the people who accuse the President of "continuing to spend" are...well, in simple terms, they're wrong! Every penny that the government owes was approved by Congress, and only thereafter by the President. In fact, a fair amount of the current spending was approved long before President Obama took the office.
So, in simple terms, these folks are complaining about themselves! They authorized spending the money, and now don't like what they did. They are, however, somehow attempting to shift the blame to the President. Bad idea!
With that out of the way, let's look at the situation. On the Republican side of the aisle, and I'm focusing on the House for the most part, there are people who promised not to raise taxes, and now they've discovered you can't actually let the government default without significant problems. However, you can't really reduce the deficit if you don't consider the revenue side. Reality bites!
Worse, if you made that promise, and now you vote to raise taxes, you're toast. The people who elected you on that promise won't forget! Even those Republicans who didn't promise can look forward to seeing a challenger in the next primary, because the Tea Party doesn't care about any of that. They don't care what you can and can't do, and they certainly don't give a damn about somebody not getting paid. Well, they don't care unless it's them. You can bet we'll be pruning the Tea Party membership roles if the government goes into default and party members don't get their social security checks!
The first George Bush found out what happens when you promise "no new taxes" and then don't deliver!
So, all during these negotiations, House Speaker Boehner has been stuck. He could, assuming he wants to, consider some sort of compromise, but he knows he can't deliver the votes if he does. Even though he didn't take the pledge, his future is on the line too, both with the American public and with his own district voters. Paging Dr Faust!
The simple fact is that you can't make promises that begin with "I'll never..." and expect the voters won't remember, especially when it's their only issue. They'll remember.
So...now we have the latest thing, proposed by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. His idea, in simplistic terms, is to have a straight up/down vote on the debt ceiling. Assuming no increase passed, the President would veto it. Then they'd play some other games which would allow the President to raise the debt ceiling after all. However, and here's the important part, the Republicans could return home to run for re-election and say they voted against it.
Smoke and Mirrors! All because they sold their souls, and now found out the truth. Dr Faust would recognize the conundrum. Mephistopheles would be proud. Somewhere the devil is dancing.