Congress loses an ‘evil genius’

Congress loses an 'evil genius'
Congress loses an 'evil genius'
Associated Press

With budget talks looming, and congressional Republicans making noises about a government shutdown and another debt-ceiling crisis, House Democrats have a message for the White House: don’t forget about us.

“In the House, when you have a core group of hard-right Republicans that oppose any kind of negotiated agreement, that obviously means that House Democrats have to be at the negotiating table,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told The Hill, adding, “Because [Speaker Boehner] cannot control his caucus, that gives House Democrats more leverage.”

That certainly makes sense – the more the House GOP says “no” to everything, the more the House leadership needs to look around to find someone who’ll say “yes.” In this case, that means Democrats, who’ll have a few demands of their own.

But nearly as interesting as who will be at the budget negotiating table is who won’t be. Rohit Kumar is a Capitol Hill staffer whose name is probably unfamiliar to most, but he’s been at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) side for every major fiscal deal since President Obama took office, and his last day as a congressional staffer was late last week.

Kumar is the guy who came up with a way to sell a $700 billion bank bailout to anxious lawmakers in 2008 when the financial system was collapsing. And he’s the guy who figured out how to let conservatives raise the debt limit while voting against it in 2011 when the nation was days away from default.

As Congress braces for a possible government shutdown next month and the fresh danger of default before Thanksgiving, the departure of Kumar, the chief negotiator for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), is a huge loss. […]

Largely invisible to the public, these are the nuts-and-bolts guys the bosses trust to negotiate critical details with Democrats, draft deals into law and explain them to the GOP rank and file. Losing them now – weeks before the next fight – weakens Republicans and leaves Democrats without familiar negotiating partners.

An Obama administration official told the Washington Post, in reference to Kumar, “If you have to do business with the dark side, it’s better to negotiate with an evil genius than with someone who only knows how to say no and doesn’t understand the details.”

I mention this, of course, because we’ve reached an interesting point in Beltway politics – Democrats find it so difficult to work constructively with obstructionist, reactionary Republicans who struggle to understand the basics that they’re inclined to miss the absence of an “evil genius” who disagrees with them about everything.

Given this, what should we expect from the budget talks next month? Kevin Drum offers this rundown:

* The tea party has gotten tired of constant betrayal by Republican leaders and is more hunkered down than ever.

* Mitch McConnell, who cut several of the most recent deals, is in a tough primary fight and can’t afford to be seen as a compromiser this year.

* John Boehner doesn’t have even a pretense of control over his caucus anymore.

* The exodus of top aides who actually did the spadework makes negotiations more polarizing than ever.

* An awful lot of Republicans seem dead serious about this business of passing a budget only if it repeals Obamacare.

* House Republicans have already demonstrated an inability to get agreement within their own caucus for even a fairly simple appropriations bill.

My advice: buckle your seatbelt.

Congress loses an 'evil genius'