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The art of no deal and debt ceilings
Bob Franken.jpg
Bob Franken is an Emmy winning, syndicated columnist. - photo by File photo

Here’s a little inside-the-Beltway knowledge (in fact, it’s inside the White House gate): In the executive mansion, where people go only if they have a temporary or a permanent pass issued by the Secret Service, there’s a “drop” in the driveway outside the West Wing. A drop is a permanently installed live camera position. There are hundreds of these drops in official Washington and dozens within the White House gate, sealed off by unfriendly men and women of the protective detail who talk into their sleeves.

The driveway drop is one of the places where lesser lights than the president, vice president, cabinet members, etc., usually hold their press “availabilities,” or “avails” inside the “gilded cage,” as President Joe Biden calls it. The commander in chief can go anywhere he wants. Which, long after your eyes have glazed over, is the point.

A senator would be one of these lesser lights who have occasion to meet with Biden all the time. They would be consigned to the driveway drop, while the chief executive could speak inside. Senators have much 

too fragile egos for that, particularly since it’s only a matter of time, in their minds, until they will run the whole show, unless some foul-mouthed idiot comes along.

You know how the CEO, in a dominant position, will leave his desk barrier on high and join the supplicant on the couch? It’s done when the exec is trying to convince you that he’s a good guy, or mislead you into thinking so.

Guess who joined the senators’ delegation after their all-important meeting on infrastructure legislation at their driveway location. Yes, it was Uncle Joe himself, strolling with the Capitol delegation and announcing, “We have a deal.” It was a blatant example of trying to project a “we’re all in this together” demeanor.

Except that they are not all in this together. Far from it. They have just reached, as the old-timey quiz show described it, “the first plateau.” The reality is that they are plateaus apart and the valleys are slithering with poisonous snakes heading in all directions. 

On the left, there are sandal-wearing water moccasins. (This is a lousy metaphor because snakes wouldn’t wear sandals, would they? For that matter, they wouldn’t wear moccasins either. That’s why they are called “cottonmouths” too, which is appropriate because as politicians, they talk out of both sides of their cotton mouths. But I digress.)

These deadly progressive snakes are predatory. They find many of their natural enemies in their own nest: the moderates. Meanwhile, the GOP reptiles, whose main characteristic is following the dreaded Trumpsnake, wouldn’t vote for any Biden-led or meet-me-in-the-middle proposal. 

The progressive snakes want what is loosely described as “soft infrastructure,” paid for by taxing the rich: climate change policies, paid medical leave, “Medicare for all,” every liberal dream and no compromises. But if Biden tries to placate the left, he displeases the right.

Biden’s next job is to somehow bring the squabbling factions together, because the Republicans who were in the meeting with Biden are the only ones the slightest bit interested in bipartisanship. Most of the GOP contingent is Trumpublican.

This is how it used to work: Back in very late 2011, Congress and the Obama administration were just a few hours away from failing to negotiate an increase in the debt ceiling. That would mean default of the United States on its sovereign debt, a worldwide financial disaster. The two sides were at an impasse.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell picked up the phone and called Democratic Vice President Biden, with whom he served decades in the Senate: “Does anyone down there know how to make a deal?” 

The crisis was averted. The story had a happy ending. Except that on July 31, the debt ceiling expires again. Disaster waits, and the atmosphere is worse than back then. Just look at infrastructure.

Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN.

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