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Hullabaloo


Friday, March 08, 2013

 
How to succeed as an opposition party without really trying

by digby


This Politico piece has got to be the oddest analysis of the sequester yet. Hopefully it's way off the mark because it's tremendously depressing:

President Barack Obama used to want a grand deficit deal because he philosophically believed it was best for the country, and politically believed it was best for him.

Now he needs it because he has no choice.

Obama’s failure to avert $85 billion in spending cuts known as the sequester underscored the limits of his outside strategy and signaled that he could not persuade Republicans to raise revenue again without a comprehensive agreement to overhaul the Tax Code and entitlements.

A lull in the deadline-driven budget battles could soon give way to a fresh round of fiscal crises — from rising public pressure to lift the sequester to a looming summer deadline to increase the debt limit. If the president is to have any hope of resolving either fight to his liking, he’ll need more revenue. But Republicans won’t even consider it unless entitlement reforms are on the table.

So after more than two months in hiding, talk of a grand bargain has suddenly resurfaced in Washington.

Huh? It's not as if the President isn't offering entitlement cuts for crying out loud. Why is it so hard for the Villagers to grasp this point? He's been offering entitlement cuts since 2011, signaled he wanted to do it since before he was inaugurated the first time. It's not that he hasn't put them on the table, it's that the GOP refuses to take him up on it. Moreover, he has been willing to do "tax reform" for from the get-go as well. That is the Grand Bargain. Here, one more time with feeling:

"Our challenge is going to be identifying what works and putting more money into that, eliminating things that don’t work, and making things that we have more efficient. But I’m not suggesting, George, I want to be realistic here, not everything that we talked about during the campaign are we going to be able to do on the pace we had hoped," Obama told me in his first interview since arriving back in Washington, DC as president-elect.

I asked the president-elect, "At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?"

"Yes," Obama said.

Sheesh...

Anyway, these oracles see the makings of a deal on the horizon, but they seem to suggest it will take the President pretending that the Republicans twisted his arm and forced him to cut Social Security and Medicare against his will. I'm fairly sure he's more than willing to go there. I'm not so sure about the Republicans. (On the other hand, they have shown they can be quite successful at talking out of both sides of their mouths on this issue. See: 2010, Medicare.)

“There is an increased focus on engagement because of the opportunity the circumstances provide,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “He is trying to make something good out of a bad situation. We don’t have a looming deadline. Republican leaders have made clear they’re not revisiting, at least not anytime soon, the idea of postponing the sequester in a balanced way. So the sequester is here. The budget process, regular order, is moving forward.”

Oh good. It worked. The sequester cuts are the new normal. Excellent.

Meanwhile:

Privately, House Republican leaders think they’ve checked two of the three boxes of a grand bargain: first, the Jan. 1 tax increases; second, the spending cuts via the sequester. Now, in their view, all that’s left is entitlement reform. Top Republicans are also skeptical Obama would agree to the kind of tax reform that House Republicans have drawn a firm line on: The revenue to be generated by closing loopholes would go to lowering rates.

If that works out, they will have achieved the most magnificent policy success any opposition party has ever achieved: minimal tax increases on some of the richest people in world history in exchange for decimating the US government's discretionary programs, cutting the "entitlements", preserving the defense budget (that's already in the proposed continuing resolution and the Democrats won't dare oppose it)and setting up a new tax regime that lowers rates. I don't think any GOP president could achieve that.


Everyone says that the White House is adamant that they will not accept any deal without revenue. What that actually means is that they'll accept anything as long as it contains revenue. And we don't know how much they'll require to call it a day or even what form it must take. There's a whole lot of wiggle room in there.

This is just hilarious:

Republicans felt burned by the fiscal cliff deal, opposed further tax hikes and, contrary to West Wing predictions, would not cave. Senior administration officials also assumed Republicans wouldn’t be able to backtrack on their dire warnings of the sequester during the 2012 campaign and their party’s reliance on defense industry contributions.

“It was a gross miscalculation and a miscalculation that flew in the face of common sense,” said Jim Dyer, a former Republican appropriations aide on Capitol Hill. “They poked the Republicans once too hard.”

Right. Politico reports without irony that Obama was mean to the Republicans so now they're digging in their heels.

The original calculation of the Grand Bargain was always daft: deficit reduction in a time of massive unemployment and a moribund economy. And even worse that the Bargain was defined as some sort of amorphous "revenue" from people who won't even feel it in exchange for benefits cuts to some of the neediest people in the country. This is also known as a "balanced approach" (to a problem that doesn't doesn't need fixing.) That we've taken a hatchet to discretionary programs is just frosting on the cake. Well played.

The bottom line is this: I think it would be nice to raise some more "revenue." But it is definitely not worth this price and I doubt very seriously it will last any longer than the Clinton tax hikes lasted --- that is until the Republicans regain the presidency. They are not going to overnight become friendly to the idea of progressive taxation, so whatever tiny little accommodation we get now is it, and it's very temporary. But the people of this country will be suffering for many, many years from the cuts to vital programs that were given up in this Bargain.


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