Sunday, May 28, 2023

On Not Negotiating With Terrorists

American hostages in Tehran, 1979, via Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

From comments on Friday's post (in which it looks like I turned out to be right):

Any money cut from the increased IRS funding will actually cost multiples of the amount cut with wealthy individuals and corporations getting away with continued cheating.

    Actually, we always deal with terrorists and extortionists. As you're reading this, there's probably somebody in Washington thinking about the next step in trying to get that Wall Street Journal reporter out of Lefortovo prison. Evan Gershkovich. And whoever is stuck in Iran. Every major police force has people specifically trained to talk down bombers and hostage takers. As far as I know, it's actually effective sometimes, and when it is, it saves lives, sometimes on a massive scale. I was thinking about this the whole time, even as I was using the expression myself, cheering Democrats on in their justified anger, but I wasn't thinking hard enough.  

    "We don't negotiate with terrorists" means something, but it isn't exactly what it sounds like. It means more or less "This negotiation isn't going anywhere if you can't give me some reason to think of you as not a terrorist."

    Which is presumably what happened here, after the House passed the so-called Limit Save and Grow Act in April, giving McCarthy a formal platform to negotiate from, however implausible (it was an awful, awful bill, designed to get the votes of his caucus's stupidest and most vicious members), and assurance that he had the authority to negotiate, however tenuous, like a confidence measure in the UK Parliament (I think nobody believed until then that he could pass it). And then in the negotiation itself, he or his guys showed they were capable of showing some good faith. They weren't being terrorists, at least not at the table, so the talks could go on.

    Indeed, it looks as if McCarthy has recognized there are Republican votes he can't get, and he's basically written them off. The deal that's being reported looks like an effort to get Democratic votes in the House to replace some of the firebreathers. Biden's infrastructure and climate change spending plans remain pretty much intact. The work requirements provision doesn't touch Medicaid, only SNAP, and it's reduced to something pretty tiny and essentially symbolic, though no doubt they'll hurt somebody (work requirements for single men that are lifted under current law when the beneficiary turns 49 will now go on until he's 54). Overall spending will actually increase, though probably not in terms of real dollars; it won't be ahead of inflation. 

    Does that mean it's a good deal? Of course not. If you want to know how bad, check out David Dayen for the most reliable view, as usual; but even he has to say it's worth voting for:

    Freedom Caucus Republicans are already mad about it; to them, it looks too much like a normal agreement and nothing like their ambitions. Democrats really got nothing out of it—the worst was just mitigated somewhat—so progressives have no real motivation to endorse this. But the White House can sell it. They avoided the worst, protected most of the core programs, and can say that, if Democrats win full control of the government again in 2024, they’ll reverse the bad parts. The House vote will be Tuesday; I imagine it will get done, albeit with some agita. This is the kind of deal that passes the Senate with 80 votes.

    It's a bad deal, not because the negotiations were done badly, but because, as the Republicans love to remind us, elections have consequences. This is something like the deal that would have been done in the normal appropriations process without reference to the debt ceiling, if the debt ceiling hadn't existed, or the Republicans hadn't taken it hostage. All the hoohah over the debt ceiling was effectively nothing but theater (which is not to say Democrats don't need to get rid of it when they get the chance, they absolutely must). It's not the negotiations that made the deal, in the end, though Biden's skill in breaking up the Republican coalition has to be acknowledged. It's the gerrymandering and relatively poor Democratic turnout in November 2022.

    You can't negotiate with somebody totally committed to being a terrorist, though; that's why talks over Ukraine haven't gotten started, because Putin can't be trusted at all, or won't make an effort to show that he can. By the same token, that's why no attempt was been made to win over Gaetz and Greene for this deal. It was Kevin McCarthy that the terrorists were holding hostage, in the end, and he sort of broke free (like Boehner in 2011, maybe he's belatedly realized that being Speaker at that price isn't worth it, and he's ready to let Gaetz try to fire him).

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