The White House and the Capitol themselves are neutral, American sites, no matter who has temporary political custody of them, and in the Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan years the White House was often used for presidential dinners with opposition leaders. That may be why the 88th and 97th Congress were so productive, and why the 112th and (so far) the 113th have been so frustrating.
One slick maneuver yet to be pulled: A former Democratic senator wonders whether a devilish Republican caucus might agree to a tiny tax increase as part of a stopgap measure in the sequester drama. Then the Republicans could go to the country and say they gave Obama a tax increase not once but twice — and now it is time for Obama, his reputation as a big taxer secure, to give them the big spending cuts they want and their constituents demand.
The worst-case scenario: This would be today’s paralysis carried on endlessly, which would challenge our faith in democracy. Put aside the question of who is punished most severely by the sequester and whether it is really bad for the economy. This impasse undermines our system and is a symbol of our leaders’ inability to do what they were elected to do: not to win a debate but to serve the country.
The best-case scenario: Let’s return to Sen. Graham of South Carolina, born in a town called Central, often at the center of things but seldom a centrist. This is his take: “We might have maneuvered ourselves into some place that is so stupid that we have to do something rational.”
This is a heck of a position to occupy, the world’s sole superpower forced to be rational as a result of its own stupidity. But in the end, the much-avoided truth may be that it is easier, and better, to do a big budget deal — the grand bargain, as it is termed in the capital — than to implement the sequester.
Let’s see how stupid our public servants can be in the hope that they might wake up and do the rational thing. Maybe they will. Because now it is clear that nobody is going to win the Battle of Sequester Gulch.
North Shore native and Pulitzer Prize winner David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.