The Surplus Wars: No Deal is No Problem

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Call it discord by design. Democrats and Republicans haven’t been this far from a compromise since the bad old days of 1995, when Newt’s army went to war with Big Bad Bill over a bad seat on Air Force One (and some other stuff). This summer, Washington looks headed for a kinder, gentler version of a government shutdown, in which the two parties tacitly agree to agree on absolutely nothing. Said iconoclastic Democrat Pat Moynihan on Sunday’s "Meet the Press": "I'd like to suggest that we might be best off if we just quit now, went home and let nature take its course." And let the electorate make its choice -- next year.

While some moderates found the attitude baffling – "Only here in Washington could we not figure out what to do with $1 trillion in surplus," said John Breaux, D-La, whose compromise tax bill was summarily executed by imperial thumbs-down in the Senate last week – for plenty of folks on both sides it made perfect sense. Republicans are determined to take a tax-cut rallying cry all the way to the 2000 bank. The White House, usually ready to deal, is convinced that tax-cuts are a non-starter with voters. Democrats are happy to play the minority martyrs, especially when even a summer of deadlock gives Clinton something to brag about: If no deal gets done, says the White House, $100 billion of this year’s surplus automatically gets ploughed into reducing the national debt. So who needs a deal? In Sunday’s Washington Post, Rep. Martin Frost (Tex.), chairman of the House Democratic caucus says that "a very clear contrast is emerging between the two parties, and we welcome that." Responds Rep. J.D. Hayworth (Ariz.): "The battle lines have been drawn, and we're really excited about that." Certainly bitter partisanship never sounded so sweet.