Anyone who has ever participated in contract negotiations of any kind has seen it all before. One side declares an impasse, leaves in a huff and accuses the other of being stubborn and unreasonable. Those left behind in negotiations point their fingers in the opposite direction.
That's why it would be foolish to read too much in the abrupt end of debt ceiling talks on Thursday. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor walked away because Democrats want to include taxes in the potential $2 trillion package. How shocking — as Democrats have only been talking about rolling back the Bush tax cuts all year, and higher taxes were among the recommendations of the bipartisan deficit reduction commission. But it turns out even talk of eliminating corporate tax breaks is verboten.
That's not to suggest that optimism should reign supreme when the two sides aren't talking. But if some form of higher taxes is to prevail, Republicans will certainly need to stomp around and demonstrate they vehemently oppose that — if only for the benefit of tea party types. It's not unlike how National Football League owners have to put up a big fuss about their financial "woes" while players have to demonstrate they're going to the mattresses, too.
Even Democrats can't be all that unhappy about Mr. Cantor's tantrum. They got a chance to point out how inflexible and uninterested in debt reduction the Republicans truly are. And now Barack Obama can look fully presidential by restarting talks — this time directly with House Speaker John Boehner, his golfing buddy — the two people with ultimate authority on these matters anyway.
Such maneuvering is unlikely to roil the financial markets, which know bad theater when they see it. The European debt crisis is much more on Wall Street's minds at the moment anyway.
Still, it's hard to hear someone like Sen. Mitch McConnell accuse Mr. Obama of having a choice between a "bipartisan compromise" and higher taxes without getting a little bile caught in the throat. Clearly it's Mr. McConnell who is not interested in a truly bipartisan compromise.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: If Congress is going to take a hatchet to federal spending vital to the poor and middle class, the wealthy need to get at least a haircut. Anything less truly is a declaration of class warfare, a conflict that the rich have been winning rather handily of late.