EDITORIAL: A grand bargain

But Republicans must beware of the sucker deal

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John A. Boehner began talking up a “grand bargain” Wednesday, a bargain with congressional Democrats and the White House to enable the government to reopen for business, guarantee a rancor-free agreement to increase the debt limit and set the stage for entitlement and tax reform. Good luck with that.

The president and his allies still think they can pressure Republicans to surrender by making the government shutdown as painful as possible, and once they have chased them into the tall grass, they can extract a “clean” debt-ceiling agreement to set the stage for higher taxes and more spending. Barack Obama and Harry Reid would no doubt consider that grand.

The Wednesday evening invitation to the White House, to bring Republicans and Democrats “to reason together,” in LBJ’s favorite phrase, turned out to be just another occasion for Mr. Obama to listen to his favorite orator, lecturing everybody else. He let the Republicans know that he won’t negotiate on anything. He did give the photographers a nice photo-op.

He would negotiate only after Republican leaders give him the “clean” continuing resolution and agree to raise the debt ceiling without conditions. This was his nuclear option, writ large. Do it his way, or he will blow the Republicans away, to hosannas from all.

The Republicans in the House adopted legislation in May that, in the event of failure to raise the debt ceiling in the fall, the United States could meet its obligations with current revenue. Many states have similar rules requiring the state to pay its bills before it takes on more debt.

The Senate didn’t agree, and the White House rejected the House insurance policy. The Republicans tried to attach it to a continuing resolution last week, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stripped it out and denounced it as the “pay China First Act.” But he warned of the dire consequences that would follow if the nation is forced by Republicans to default on debts to creditors like China. The Democrats think the Republicans will lose both battles, and give them control of both House and Senate, leaving them free to demonize the successful, expand the government and raise taxes at will.

Mr. Boehner deserves credit for both courage and stamina in his search for a reasonable path to a resolution of the impasse. But he’s a politician of the old school, who believes that leaders of both parties have an incentive to sit down, negotiate and solve problems. His opponents, alas, are playing a different game.

The tide may shift during the next week. Wednesday night’s meeting at the White House suggests that the president, who earlier boasted that he wouldn’t negotiate, blinked because he knows he can’t appear to be saying that it’s his way or the highway. He knows that the winds are fickle.

When they shift, Republicans must be prepared to be reasonable — and appear to be reasonable — and get what they can in a continuing resolution, and, most important, be ready to defend their position on taxes, spending and governmental reform as the debate over the debt ceiling approaches.

If they do that, they will have turned the tables on Mr. Obama. If the 2014 congressional races are fought over Obamacare, whether Americans want to pay higher taxes or enable a bloated government to grow fatter, sloppier and more slovenly still, the result is likely to be grand indeed.

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