Why Liberals Should Be Thankful for the Tea Party

Sometime in the next week or so, the White House will unveil its new budget for 2015, but the big news has already leaked: Obama will not include a proposal to cut Social Security cost-of-living benefits—by switching to the so-called chained Consumer Price Index—as he has in past budgets. This development was widely condemned by Republicans eager to cut entitlement spending. “The president has no interest in doing anything, even modest, to address our looming debt crisis,” House Speaker John Boehner’s spokesman told the New York Times.

But that charge could just as easily be turned back on Republicans, and probably should be: Time and again, their refusal to negotiate has meant passing up significant concessions from the White House—concessions that drive liberals batty. By insisting on a cuts-only, my-way-or-the-highway approach to negotiating, Republicans have repeatedly and consistently protected liberal policy interests that Obama has been willing, even eager, to bargain away.

The chained CPI is only the latest example. As Jennifer Steinhauer and Jonathan Weisman note in today’s Times, conservatives’ refusal to accept modest advances when outright victory isn’t possible resulted in a farm bill that was more liberal that it needed to be. That’s because, when conservatives revolted, Republican leaders wound up needing Democratic votes to pass legislation and thus had to tilt the farm bill in a direction more to their liking. “Had a number of the forces out and around this town been more focused on trying to achieve doable reform, we might have gotten more,” Representative Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, told the Times.

Of course, the biggest example of this is the “grand bargain” that Obama and Boehner negotiated in the summer of 2011 that would have cut trillions of dollars in spending over 10 years and raised about $800 billion in revenue. The prospect of such significant cuts outraged liberals who were angry that the White House would trade away their priorities for what they viewed as a relative pittance of new revenue. (Matt Bai wrote the definitive blow-by-blow account of the deal and its collapse.) But then, as now, conservative pressure killed the deal and let liberals off the hook.

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