Bring Back the Smoke Filled Rooms

In days of old, when congressional impasses presented themselves, the Speaker of the House, rosy-cheeked Tip O’Neil, would meet his counterpart in the Senate for a night of poker. Several bottles of Scotch later, a deal would get struck, and the two would be photographed together shaking hands the next morning, talking about the good of the country. The process moved on.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Speaker John Boehner is new at the job, and he is learning through trial and error, mostly the latter. He is up against a world-class constitutional law professor. I can’t imagine Boehner playing cards with Harry Reid, Obama, or anyone.

Even if he does come to an agreement, it is unlikely that he can make it stick by getting his own party to follow him. Many of the new junior house members are from the Tea Party, whose understanding of economics, financial markets, and the law making process is shaky at best. In another six months they have to start campaigning again, going to their supporters and financial backers with a list of what they have achieved. It is a very short list.

If Tip O’Neal faced recalcitrant members of his own party, he would threaten a cut off in funding of all pork barrel projects in their district, banish them to the least popular committees, and kill any bill they brought to the floor. But at least if Tip cut a deal, you knew he could deliver the votes. Today, rebellious republicans won’t even take a call from Boehner, who view him with almost as much hostility as they do Obama.

What we are seeing here is sausage making in public, in all its odiferous ugliness. It is negotiation out in the open, never a good idea, especially when both sides believe the other is doing so in bad faith.

All of this leads us to bemoan the passing of the Reagan republicans, who you could work with and get a few laughs along the way. It also means that the volatility that I promised you will be arriving by the boatload in coming months. Watch this space.

SPX 8-8-13

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