A popular argument holds that Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a big mistake. Because of Putin’s violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, Ukraine is more likely to look west and prosper. Russia will be increasingly isolated and grow poorer. And Moscow will be stuck with responsibility for Crimea. This is a comforting theory, which can easily become an excuse for avoiding hard decisions: If Putin is losing, why should we go to all the trouble and financial pain of, say, rallying the West to impose sanctions that bite?
“When we started this 18 months ago,” Tom Daschle told me, “we assumed that there could be a grand bargain.” The former Senate majority leader, a Democrat, laughed ruefully, as did his companions. Daschle was visiting The Washington Post last week with Republican Bill Frist, also a former majority leader; former Senator Pete Domenici, longtime head of the budget committee; and Alice Rivlin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office.
Shortly after the Republican gains in 2010, a tea party-backed senator was telling me his legislative goals, starting with a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget that would limit spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product. How likely was that (terrible, in my view) idea to pass Congress, I asked. Not very, the senator acknowledged. “Which is why we need a mandate election in 2012,” he said. And how likely was that? Not very, he admitted again. But he had no Plan B - and certainly no willingness to compromise in the meantime.
WASHINGTON — So after all the talk about fiscal balance and responsible choices, the pre-Christmas rush in Washington has come down to this: one more belly-up to the middle-class tax-cut bar. If, as seems likely, enough Republicans manage to overcome their sometime scruples and join President Barack Obama before last call, Washington will prove once more that bipartisanship is alive and well — as long as it is in the service of digging the deficit hole deeper.