One way to understand the dysfunction within the Republican Party is to think of it as a hostage scheme that spun out of control. The plan, originally formulated by Paul Ryan and other party leaders, involved a more aggressive reprise of the 2011 negotiations, where Republicans would use the threat of default, along with sequestration, to force President Obama to accept unfavorable budget terms. The plan was hijacked by Ted Cruz and transformed into a scheme using a less effective hostage threat (shutting down the government rather than defaulting) but tethered to the much more grandiose ransom of repealing Obamacare. As the Cruz scheme disintegrates around the Republicans, the original leaders are attempting to reassert control and revert to the original plan.
The subtext of op-eds today by Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan is a promise to ratchet down their ransom terms. Neither op-ed mentions any demands related to Obamacare. Ryan proposes to trade higher short-term discretionary government spending for permanent cuts to tax rates and retirement programs. “We can work together,” he writes. “We can do some good.”
The policy demands in Ryan’s op-ed are sufficiently vague that, if viewed as an opening bid, they would not completely preclude some kind of deal if he actually wants to bargain. The trouble is that Ryan’s entire history strongly suggests he does not want to deal. Every major attempt to create bipartisan budget negotiations has been quashed by Ryan....
The single most implausible element of the House leadership’s "let’s negotiate" gambit is the premise that a bipartisan budget deal would satisfy the Republican base. Any bipartisan deal, even one heavily slanted to the Republican side, would enrage conservatives. Even the tiniest concession — easing sequestration, closing a couple of token tax loopholes — would be received on the right as a betrayal. Loss aversion is a strong human emotion, and especially strong among movement conservatives. Concessions given away will dwarf any winnings in their mind. Boehner, Ryan, and Cantor have spent months regaling conservatives with promises of rich ransoms to come. Coming back with an actual negotiated settlement would enrage the right.