What happened yesterday

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What we learned from this fight

Dear 5849376,

Yesterday, with the total collapse of the Republicans' dangerous and reckless attempt to hold our nation hostage to their extremist agenda, we won an important battle. The Democratic leaders in Washington, DC finally stood up to Republican hostage-taking and it worked. This is a good thing.

But it is neither an absolute victory nor the last battle we'll have to fight on this front, so we thought it would be worthwhile to explain more of our thinking about where we are in the larger fight, and what that means for progressives in the coming months.

Congress passed a bill to raise the debt ceiling and re-open the government, averting a crisis that was entirely manufactured and completely avoidable. And what did the Republican extremists get that they wouldn't have gotten without their hostage-taking? Practically nothing in terms of substantive policy, plus a brutal drubbing in the court of public opinion.

While the bill that passed did not undo the economic pain the Republicans caused by shutting down the government, and while it extended the brutal sequester cuts that go even beyond Paul Ryan's heartless budget plan, this was a huge victory nonetheless.

Democrats proved that if they went toe-to-toe with Republicans and drew a line in the sand on important, popular and completely reasonable policies, they could prevail without conceding anything meaningful to the Republican hostage-takers.

This represents a significant change in tactics for Democratic leaders, who have time and time again caved to Republicans in similar situations since the Tea Party swung control of the House after the 2010 elections.

President Obama set the stage for this win by saying he would not negotiate in order to get the Republicans to fulfill their basic responsibilities to fund the government and prevent a government default, and the president will certainly get a lot of well-deserved credit for that.

Yet those of us closely following the behind-the-scenes machinations inside the Washington, DC Beltway also know that this victory was made possible in large part because Senate Democrats under the leadership of Sen. Harry Reid played hardball and stayed unified in the face of the Republicans' outrageous ransom demands.

Harry Reid deserves our thanks -- click here to sign the petition.

Shame on Republican leadership -- click here to sign the petition.

All through this fight everyone knew that it was highly unlikely that Democrats would agree to the Republicans' outrageous demands that Congress dismantle the president's signature health care law. The Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court, and then endorsed by voters who re-elected the president in an election where the health care reform was at the center of the debate.

But that said, there was no guarantee that the Republicans would lose this fight so thoroughly without anything to show for it. On the process issue of refusing to negotiate with Republican hostage-taking, this is a clear win for Democrats and for the American people.

The longer term budget fight that will now commence will revolve around the across-the-board spending cuts known as the "sequester" that came into place after the Democrats caved during the last debt ceiling crisis. The sequester has led to indiscriminate cuts to everything -- from vital social programs that should be better funded to the bloated Pentagon budget that should be the target of even further cutbacks.

If you remember, in 2011 -- despite opposition from CREDO members and other progressives -- Democrats agreed to a process that led first to the dangerous farce that was called "the Super Committee." Then, when the Super Committee failed because Republicans refused to take Democrats up on their offer to cut programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in exchange for modest increases in revenue, an across-the-board sequester was imposed. This sequester has been slashing government spending at a time when the government needed to be spending more money to bring us out of our economic downturn and get people back to work.

The Democratic victory in this most recent fight merely maintained the status quo including those brutal cuts from 2011. The fact that the deal struck consists of a temporary funding bill that adopts the Republicans sequester budget cuts shows how far the goalposts have been moved and how much more work we as progressives have to do if we want to see our priorities reflected in how the government spends money.

The Democrats won this battle. Harry Reid was able to both corral his caucus to keep them unified, and to pursue a strategy that splintered the Republicans without rewarding their hostage-taking. The bigger victory will come when Democrats embrace this strategy in future fights, not only when the Democrats are on defense but also when we can push them to go on offense for our progressive priorities.

Reid's leadership not only helped us in this fight, it also shows how Democrats can win future battles (which will hopefully make the Republicans think twice about threatening to throw our economy into a tailspin if they don't get their way).

Harry Reid deserves our thanks -- click here to sign the petition.

Shame on Republican leadership -- click here to sign the petition.

It's important to celebrate Democrats when they stand up to the Republicans' irresponsible and undemocratic strategy of using manufactured crises as hostage-taking opportunities, but we shouldn't kid ourselves about the need to continue fighting the Republicans or the need to keep putting pressure on the Democrats to stand up for our values.

Although it received scant notice at the time, the discussions around re-opening the government and extending the debt ceiling explicitly included talk about cutting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.

While the president and Senate Democrats refused to negotiate under the duress of these must-pass bills that were crucial to the economy, Democrats were quite clear that they were more than willing to agree to benefit cuts. And part of the framework agreed to yesterday includes an explicit timeline for those negotiations, which are scheduled to conclude by December 13.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, the third most powerful Democrat in the Senate, let the cat out of the bag when he said the following on CBS's Face the Nation last Sunday:

The dispute has been how to undo sequester. Republicans want to do it with entitlement cuts -- in other words, take entitlement cuts and then put that money into undoing at least part of sequester. Democrats want to do it with a mix of mandatory cuts, some entitlement [cuts], and revenues. And so how do you overcome that dilemma? We're not going to overcome it in the next day or two. But if we were to open up the government for a period of time that concluded before the sequester took place, which is January 15th, we could have a whole bunch of discussions. And I am more optimistic than most we could come to an agreement. That was one place where the House Republicans and the president were not, you know, at total loggerheads.

[…]

So the plan would be open up the government immediately for a period of time before the sequester hits and then have serious discussions where we might be able to undo the sequester. I'm optimistic that could work.

Sen. Schumer's optimism should be of concern to all of us who want to protect Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.

We already have seen the president propose benefit cuts for these vital social insurance programs in previous budgets.

While the Republicans have previously rejected the president's offers due to their zealous opposition to new taxes on the wealthy or large corporations and the president's insistence on new sources of revenue in any grand bargain, we can't count on the Republicans to continue refusing to take yes for an answer. So if we allow the Democrats to continue proposing the same bad deals they have offered in the past, we could end up seeing the Democrats win this battle only to lose the larger war.

But for now, we should thank Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for helping to engineer this victory. And let congressional Republicans know that their behavior was as disgraceful as it was irresponsible.

Ultimately we need to be ready to hold Democrats accountable for standing strong in the major battles that are soon to come over Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits.

Thank you for your activism.

Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets


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