The stunning vote in the House of Representatives early today, which rejected the bipartisan budget agreement, essentially means that the politics of confrontation have prevailed over the politics of compromise.
The defeat of the deficit-reduction package is largely a result of the mischievous handiwork of that most confrontational of politicians, Georgia's Rep. Newt Gingrich. Once it became clear that Gingrich was going to lead a majority of Republicans in repudiation of their president, Democrats would have been fools to vote for the deficit-reduction package. Why should they choke down the bitter medicine when the Republicans refused to do so?
So, in the end, it was the oddest of coalitions that defeated the budget-reduction package in its first important test before Congress. To illustrate: There are probably no two members of Congress with more consistently opposite voting records than Gingrich and, let us say, Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts. Yet they wound up voting together to defeat the compromise. Dozens of other liberals and conservatives were similarly aligned in this strange coalition. Gingrich voted against the package because he wanted lower taxes and greater cuts social spending; Kennedy voted against it because he wanted higher taxes on the rich and fewer cuts in social programs. So each had his way. But the underlying issues remain unresolved, and the deficit grows, and grows, and grows . . .
Essentially President Bush was saying, "let's dance," and Gingrich was saying, "let's fight." All right, Newt Gingrich, you win. So where do we go from here? Show us your plan. Now that dancing has failed, let's see where fighting gets us.