Bad Bargain | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Bad Bargain

Mike Doyle sees ugly prospects ahead

Let's give credit where it's due: For decades, leftists have longed to mount an effective challenge to global capitalism. And then along come the Tea Party Republicans, who after less than nine months in office stood poised to demolish the entire system, holding it hostage by threatening default on U.S. government debts unless there were major spending cuts. 

Eventually, they struck a bargain that, along with other cuts, reduces defense spending by $350 billion … weakening the military-industrial complex without chaining themselves to a single recruiting center. 

Nice job, comrades! Who says democracy doesn't work?

Well, just about everyone, actually. Most Americans were appalled by the months-long fiasco. And while cuts could have been worse -- programs like Medicare and Social Security are protected, for now -- the debt ceiling has never been used as political leverage before. With the tactic's success proven, future hostage-taking seems likely. 

But if you ask Congressman Mike Doyle (D-Pittsburgh), the problem isn't that democracy doesn't work. It's that only one side is working at it. 

"If I held a town-hall meeting," says Doyle, conservatives "would have no trouble turning out hundreds of people. They'd travel in from outside the district just to say, ‘Hi.'" By contrast, "There isn't a Republican in the area that has received that type of pressure. … If liberals don't like what the tea-party movement is doing to the country, they need to start showing up in droves. And then you'll see people starting to show the courage we wish they would have." 

Sounds simple: Fight the tea party by adopting its tactics. And if it's one thing liberals know, it's how to make meetings really tiresome. But Doyle knows it's not that easy. 

 "What gets you to show up at meetings? You do it when you are mad. And if you are watching FOX, or listening to Glenn Beck, you are being fed a steady diet of things you are being told should outrage you."

Conversely, he asks, "Who's going to fire up our troops?"

The answer to that question used to be "the generals." But the Democrats' commander-in-chief, President Obama, is less a flesh-and-blood politician than a post-partisan simulacrum of one.  In recent weeks, for example, Obama routinely faulted disarray in "Congress," rather than directly blaming Republicans who -- by their own admission -- were holding the debt ceiling hostage.  "It drives a lot of  us crazy," says Doyle. "The President doesn't name names."

That's not a problem for Doyle. After the debt ceiling was raised, he generated national headlines for likening Republicans to "terrorists" during a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden. In his own defense, Doyle notes that even Pittsburgh's Paul O'Neill -- George W. Bush's former Treasury Secretary -- has likened tea-partying Republicans to "our version of al Qaeda terrorists." And he says he was angry at having to govern "with a gun to your head." 

He may have to get used to it. As part of the debt-ceiling deal, a 12-member Congressional committee is set to recommend $1.5 trillion in further cuts later this year. If it can't reach a consensus Congress can support, further cuts are on the way. Tax cuts passed in the George W. Bush years are also set to expire. 

Doyle says that tax breaks on the wealthy must be terminated -- "I don't see how we can possibly plug the deficits otherwise" -- and that Biden pledged they would be. Indeed, the tax cuts are set to expire on their own if nothing is done. If Democrats can do nothing right, this is one policy goal they should have no trouble meeting. If Democrats screw that up, it's hard to see why we need them at all. 

But given White House capitulations during the debt-ceiling crisis, Doyle admits "There was some chuckling" at Biden's promise. After all, Republicans are almost certain to demand new concessions in the next round. They may even roll back the defense cuts they just agreed to. 

And if Obama caves again, what motive will Democratic voters have for taking on Republicans in next year's elections? 

 "I'm not sure what the answer is, except grassroots outrage," Doyle sighs. "But that never happens until a lot of people have already been hurt."

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