“Common Ground,” Republican Style (UPDATED)

So: After regaling us with their unctious hopes that they and Democrats can now achieve “common ground” after the White House summit yesterday (was it just yesterday?!); after praising Barack Obama with sickening condescension (I saw the post-summit press briefing by GOP leaders on CNN while on my second day of jury duty yesterday, and the patronizing back-patting made me so ill I had to leave the room) for “reaching out” to Republicans (as though, of course, he has not been doing that repeatedly and consistently and continuously for the last two years while Republican leaders slapped his outstretched arm down every time), this is what Democrats get from these immensely pleased congressional partners across the aisle: a unanimous Republican pledge to block every item on the legislative agenda that is not related to tax cuts and government spending:

The AP had an item late last night, noting that Senate Republicans were circulating a letter, “quietly collecting signatures” on a plan to “block action on virtually all Democratic-backed legislation unrelated to tax cuts and government spending.”This morning, the Senate GOP leadership unveiled their letter — signed by literally all 42 members of the Republican caucus — declaring their intention to hold the chamber hostage until the tax policy debate is resolved.

“[W]e write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities. While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.”

In practical terms, this means that the Senate Republican caucus will join arms and kill literally every piece of legislation in the lame-duck session — New START, funding U.S. troops, the DREAM Act, etc. — until the government is fully funded and they’re satisfied with the outcome of the debate on tax policy.

When the letter was being circulated yesterday, there was some hope that some of the less-conservative members — the Maine “moderates,” for example — might not go along with the hostage-taking strategy. This morning, however, we learned that every Republican is on board with this plan. Even Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) is saying our national security needs through the pending arms treaty must take a back seat to tax cuts.

Also note the context: President Obama hosted a meeting at the White House yesterday with congressional leaders of both parties, and afterwards, everyone was all smiles. There was a renewed commitment to try to work together, find common ground, with an emphasis on bipartisanship.

A few hours later, the hostage letter was circulated by the GOP leadership, and less than a day after the bipartisan confab, literally every member of the Senate Republican caucus effectively told the world, “Screw bipartisanship; we’re playing hardball until we get what we want on tax cuts for the wealthy.”

As Steve Benen also notes, this letter doesn’t mean Republicans will agree to work with Democrats on the rest of the legislative agenda once they get their way on tax cuts and government spending: “… Republicans will block literally everything until they’re satisfied, at which point, they’ll try to block literally everything anyway.”

John Cole is thinking along the same lines:

So basically, the Republicans have reacted to Obama’s latest attempt to reach out to him by issuing a ransom note- give them tax cuts for the rich, or the entire legislative agenda gets whacked.

Well played, Obama. Well played.

How will this play out? Obama will give them what they want, and then they will block everything anyway. Whee! Can’t you just feel the bipartisanship?

It’s like holding a gun to a hostage’s head, threatening to kill them unless they say or do what the hostage-taker wants, and then shooting the hostage anyway after they comply.

Here is the full letter at the official website for Senate Republicans.

Steve M. is feeling discouraged enough to recommend that Democrats “bow to the inevitable.”

A day after the midterms, I told you that I think the Democrats should bow to the inevitable and make all the tax cuts permanent. I still feel that way. What the hell is the point of doing anything else? Democrats couldn’t summon up the nerve to repeal the cuts for the wealthy when they had a 77-seat majority in the House and (for a while) a 20-seat majority in the Senate as well as the public’s goodwill; they’re not going to be able to repeal them now, or any time in the foreseeable future, so why even bother to fight for an extension that’s temporary rather than permanent? What do Democrats get from that — the chance to lose this fight again in a year or two, and then maybe again a year or two after that, and so on ad infinitum? Just acknowledge the inevitable and stop the bleeding.

That’s what I think Democrats should do right now. Republicans want to hold the START treaty and DADT repeal and maybe a renewal of unemployment benefits hostage to tax cuts? Fine. Trip them up by giving them their damn tax cuts — immediately. They’re going to get them anyway, so what difference does fighting make? Dems should declare that they think Republicans are dead wrong, but say that the Democratic Party not going to let Republicans hold the rest of the people’s business hostage. Do it so fast they’ll have to scramble for another strategy.

It’s ugly. It’s a regrettable concession. But at least it might take control of the agenda from Republicans for a while, and suddenly put the onus on them to make compromises rather than just yammer about them.

Right-wing and blind-as-bats Republican partisans, of course, think it’s Democrats who are “playing games” and brave Republicans who are standing up to them.
UPDATE 1: Andrew Sullivan is a must-read on what Republicans in this Congress are about (with my emphasis on the core point):

What we’ve observed these past two years is a political party that knows nothing but scorched earth tactics, cannot begin to see any merits in the other party’s arguments, refuses to compromise one inch on anything, and has sought from the very beginning to do nothing but destroy the Obama presidency. I see no other coherent message or strategy since 2008. Just opposition to everything, zero support for a president grappling with a recession their own party did much to precipitate, and facing a fiscal crisis the GOP alone made far worse with their spending in the Bush-Cheney years. There is not a scintilla of responsibility for their past; not a sliver of good will for a duly elected president. Worse, figures like Cantor and McCain actively seek to back foreign governments against the duly elected president of their own country, and seek to repeal the signature policy achievement of Obama’s first two years, universal healthcare.
[...]
This is not conservatism, properly understood, a disposition that respects the institutions and traditions of government, that can give as well as take, that seeks the national interest before partisan concerns, and that respects both the other branches of government and seeks to work with them. These people are not conservatives in this core civilized sense; they are partisan vandals.

UPDATE 2: Brian Beutler writes (emphasis mine):

Just hours after Democrats and Republicans agreed to bargain on tax cuts, and fewer hours still after Defense Secretary Robert Gates implored Congress to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell this year, word leaked that Republicans aren’t really interested in any of it — a major repudiation of Gates’ authority.

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Author: KATHY KATTENBURG