Why, GOP, Why?

As Washington lurches inexorably toward a lesser budget deal, Congressman David Cicilline must be thanking his lucky stars.

The broader deal that President Obama and Speaker of the House Boehner were discussing not long ago called for substantial cuts, including some in entitlement programs like Medicare, in exchange for a significant but far smaller growth in tax revenues.

That deal would have robbed Cicilline and other Democrats of their primary argument in the 2012 elections: the GOP wants to end Medicare as we know it. It also would have given the Republicans something to crow about.

Which leads to my question of the day: why isn't the GOP accepting the bigger deal?

There's been plenty of talk about the rise of the no-compromise Tea Party wing of the party. Fine. But it's just a wing. Couldn't Boehner still corral two-thirds of his caucus for what conservative columnist David Brooks calls the "deal of the century?" Here is an opportunity to substantially shrink the footprint of the federal government - and to rightly claim credit for it.

Let the Tea Partiers vote against it and energize their followers. Give GOP candidates a hand where it counts, in purple and blue districts like Rhode Island's first.

In the Senate, where Republicans have a real opportunity to seize control next year given the number of seats Democrats have to defend, a deal would be a strong argument for the virtues of divided government.

And yes, the president could also claim a victory. But depending on your point of view, he's either a) going to rise or fall on the strength of the economy, regardless of what happens with the budget deal or b) too strong for any of the GOP hopefuls, regardless of what happens with the budget deal. Either way, it's "regardless of what happens with the budget deal."

So what gives? Is Speaker Boehner really so worried about an insurrection by the Tea Party types? If that's what's driving this, Cicilline should sit down in his Washington office, pull out a clean sheet of stationery, and write a nice little thank you note to Michelle Bachmann.

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