Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Wise Men Of Washington Present Their Gifts

The Wise Men Of Washington Present Their Gifts

Wayne LaPierre came thundering in last Friday, verbal guns blazing in all directions, and handed the nation an early holiday gift.

The NRA’s initial response to the Newtown massacre had been one of comparative quiet, other than the perfunctory “we mourn with the victims” that they have prerecorded for every act of mass gun violence.  But enormity of the loss, and the age of the victims, seemed to give a hint that this time would be different.  After a few days passed, they announced they would wait as the women and children were buried, then make a “meaningful contribution” to the discussion.

LaPierre’s press conference/cock-fight was that “meaningful contribution.”  Without dissecting it line by line, he made three main points: a) it was the media’s fault for just about everything, b) let’s not waste time debating legislation that won’t work, and c) if only the liberals and gun-haters had heeded the NRA’s call to place armed guards in every school, this would never had happened.  He then refused to take questions and stalked off. 

It was an impressive display worthy of a Vladimir Putin, and so pugnacious even the redoubtable Murdoch-owned New York Post had a front page picture of him with the caption “Gun Nut.”  But that’s all noise.  The NRA isn’t going to compromise, because it doesn’t think it has to.  It has counted heads and noses and muzzles, and is confident that there are enough supporters in Congress to block any and all legislation.

They are probably right.  For the lock and load crowd, LaPierre runs the most effective lobby in the country, a potent mix of legitimate Constitutional claims, extreme paranoia, a loyal membership, and pure muscle. They could advocate for having toddlers carry derringers in their onesies to keep nurseries safe and their supporters would nod their heads in unison and stock up for the grandchildren.   The NRA is absolutely ruthless in disciplining its electeds, and completely uncaring about the press it gets.  And their benefactors in the gun industry exhibit the same type of scruples.  In the last few years, the gun manufacturers Colt, Sturm Ruger & Company, and Mossberg & Sons have effectively lobbied against legislation in Connecticut itself, threatening to take jobs out of the state should any type of legislation be passed.

Besides, in Washington, Congress is busy right now.  In the House, the extremely conservative bloc of Republicans (as opposed to the very conservative bloc, or severely conservative bloc) showed once again that they embraced the culture of life by rejecting Speaker Boehner’s inartfully named “Plan B.”  Plan B was Boehner’s job-killing outrage that would extend the Bush Tax Cuts for everyone--except for those making $1,000,000.00 or more.  No, screamed the caucus, the very foundations of Western Civilization were at risk. 

Plan B wasn’t real, of course, since nothing seems to be real in Washington.  The object was to put the House on record as extending tax cuts for all, except the tiniest sliver, and daring that noted Class Warrior and Socialist, Mr. Obama,  to veto it.  They paired it with a bill that did pass narrowly, a measure to alter the automatic spending cuts set to kick in next year by replacing reductions in the military budget with (smaller) domestic cuts.  The thinking was that for the small price of increasing tax rates on incomes over $1M (which the affluent don’t pay anyway) the GOP would get some of the spending cuts they want, and deftly renege on the sequester deal they made with regard to military spending.  That would then strengthen the Speaker’s hand in negotiating the big ticket slashes at the entitlement programs that are the idée fixe of good Conservatives everywhere.  And it would allow the GOP to go back to their districts/states and look good: against tax increases, for the military, and against “wasteful” government spending.

But it didn’t work. Apparently, anything less than complete capitulation by Mr. Obama and the Democrats is unacceptable.  Now, one might ask how the Speaker blundered so in counting noses before putting up Plan B.  Boehner (and Cantor, if the story can be believed) were both shocked.  The only explanation I can think of is that they simply assumed that the paired bills were a deal too good to pass up, and, like the NRA, were confident in victory.

A nifty little plan, but a failure.  There are some walls of irrationality that are too high to climb.  Thankfully, Boehner did what every good Washington politician seems to do these days when faced with hard work and hard decisions.  He adjourned the House for the holiday, and kicked the can to the Senate.

So with six days left to go in the year, we are left to plunge over the Fiscal Cliff, one hand frantically reaching for our wallet, the second for our Bushmaster.  Meanwhile, the absolutists are popping the champagne corks. 

And yet, both the NRA and the Snifter-of-Brandy Club may have erred. Could they have made a better deal now then they could be forced to accept later?

The NRA might have. One wonders what might have occurred if  they offered some very small compromises that had absolutely no teeth, giving pro-NRA legislators the opportunity to make a meaningless gesture and bury the rest. Let’s be honest, the majority in Congress quails at the thought of the NRA’s sulfurous touch, and would have loved the cover. 

Boehner’s ego and standing wasn’t the only casualty of his failed Plan B gambit.  It also derailed a quieter initiative that he and Obama were working on, which actually had real revenue increases and real entitlement cuts.  That deal is now off the table.  Boehner, and the House, are now out of the discussion.  The Senate could come up with and pass something balanced and reasonable, with a hike in the Debt Ceiling. Then the House would be in the very place Boehner was hoping to put Obama in; vote for something that looks like a compromise,  or make the country suffer.  So now Boehner has to count on the tender mercies of McConnell and Reid, and hope they work fast, because on January 1, all those nice tax cuts for the GOP’s true constituency vaporize, as does the beefy part of the military budget.

Gifts?  Not exactly frankincense and myrrh, but surely something.  When the bully walks away from the table and dares everyone to do something, strange things can happen. People start to talk freely for the first time, and may even exchange ideas.  There’s nothing like a little fresh air to clear the mind.

We can only hope.