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Contraception restrictions remain a top Republican priority

Associated Press

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), arguably the last moderate Republican in Congress, thought she'd offered Democrats a credible solution to the ongoing crises. The Maine senator told reporters yesterday she "bent over backwards" to try to work something out, before Democrats rejected her idea.

There were, however, two problems. The first is that Collins' plan called on Democrats to make concessions in exchange for nothing -- her idea would reopen the government for six months, raise the debt ceiling for a year, and require Democrats to accept sequestration levels and throw in a two-year delay of the medical-device tax in the Affordable Care Act. It was a one-sided deal -- Democrats would make some concessions, while Republicans made none.

The second problem is that even if Senate Democrats took Collins' slanted deal, it wouldn't have made a difference since House Republicans said they'd refuse to even bring the bill to the floor. And why's that? Because House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is thinking ahead.

This defiance was fed by Ryan, who stood up and railed against the Collins proposal, saying the House could not accept either a debt-limit bill or a government-funding measure that would delay the next fight until the new year.

According to two Republicans familiar with the exchange, Ryan argued that the House would need those deadlines as "leverage" for delaying the health-care law's individual mandate and adding a "conscience clause" -- allowing employers and insurers to opt out of birth-control coverage if they find it objectionable on moral or religious grounds -- and mentioned tax and entitlement goals Ryan had focused on in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal.

Got that? We're in the midst of two crises, but Paul Ryan is already thinking ahead to the next self-imposed crises, at which point he'll demand restrictions on access to contraception. (The establishment routinely forgets just how extreme a culture warrior Ryan really is.)

It's a reminder why Democrats, if they agree to pay a ransom now, will only encourage more hostage-taking later.

Politico had an item this morning that noted, "Whatever else came out of the shutdown, President Barack Obama said he wanted two things to change: no more negotiating under threat. And no more lurching from crisis to crisis." And though that's obviously proving to be difficult, it's an important goal.

Under the current Republican model, the American legislative process is effectively broken. They could pursue policy goals by relying on constitutional norms -- introducing bills, holding hearings, considering amendments, allowing floor debates, etc. -- but that's unlikely to deliver the results they want. Worse, it might require some compromises, which isn't part of their m.o.

So instead they'll just rely on a series of intermittent deadlines. The government needs funding? Then Republicans will demand concessions in exchange for nothing. The Treasury needs to have its borrowing authority extended? Then Republicans will demand more concessions in exchange for nothing. The entire federal policymaking process will simply lurch from one hostage crisis to the next, with Republican lawmakers refusing to engage outside of a crisis environment.

Paul Ryan looks at these moments like children looking forward to their birthday -- he starts thinking about what he'll ask for months in advance. And in this case, he doesn't like any plan that will delay his gifts because he's so looking forward to making it more difficult for Americans to access birth control.

Remember: in GOP land, Paul Ryan is supposed to be the conservative intellectual that the rest of us are supposed to take seriously.

Those who wonder why governing has become so impossible in 2013 just aren't paying close enough attention.