Uh-oh. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has previously functioned pretty well as a firebreak against President Obama's instincts to give away the store, now seems to be tottering toward a Republican deal. If that occurs, yet another leader would be rewarding Republican intransigence.
Reportedly, Reid's deal, offered as the Democrats' last hope to ward off a default, would include about $2.7 trillion in spending cuts, roughly the amount of the increase in the debt ceiling, and no revenue increases, details to be spelled out later.
But that is basically giving in completely to Republican terms. And there is no way to get cuts that large without serious reductions in Social Security, Medicare, and what's left of other domestic spending.
Here's what Senator Chuck Schumer said on MSNBC: "Senator Reid is going to put forth an offer that meets the Democrats' main criteria, going past 2012, and the two Republican criteria -- enough cuts to equal the amount you raise the debt ceiling and no revenues, And I think that has some hope."
Say what? There is nothing especially Democratic about demanding a multi-year deal. In many respects, that is likely to be worse than a short-term deal. Schumer is saying in effect, if we give the Republicans everything they demand, they might even deign to accept it.
Up until now, what has saved the Democrats from a complete capitulation is the fact that they have clung to a few core principles -- no cuts in Social Security or Medicare unless the deal includes tax increases on the rich. I never thought this was good enough, because Social Security and Medicare are not part of the current budget crisis, and because such a deal leaves no money for job creation or recovery spending.
But at least these terms were ones Republicans could not accept. Now, however, Senator Reid is moving his own goal posts yet again, to make it easier for Democrats to get rolled.
Let's hope the Republicans keep holding out for more or that Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats refuse to go along.
As I've argued elsewhere, it would be far better for President Obama to stop negotiating with people who refuse to meet him halfway, and use the authority of the 14th Amendment to raise the debt ceiling while budget talks continue.
If the Democrats make a deal wholly on Republican terms, the Republicans win four ways. They are rewarded for refusing to compromise. They are seen as the tougher, more principled party. Obama and the Democrats lose their strongest calling card for 2012 and beyond, as the party that protects your Social Security and your Medicare. And Republicans get to shackle an incumbent president with high unemployment and no resources to fight it, going into a tough re-election.
You might think that some Democrats would notice by now that toughness and principle make for good politics.