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Monday, September 23, 2013

"All the cuts they need are there to avoid a possible shutdown"

by digby

Richard Eskow has a good piece up at Campaign for America's Future which lays out the same possible budget end-game I laid out last week. It's impossible to know what will happen in a fluid situation like this, of course. But it pays to be a bit paranoid. When you find yourself in a position of counting on your enemies to be so stupid as to keep saving you from your friends, you are in a precarious position.

As I said in my earlier post, it's important to remember that the earlier deals didn't fail to materialize because the two ides disagreed on cutting Social Security. They didn't. It failed because the president refused to give up on some sort of tax hike in exchange. Both sides are on board with the cuts. So now we have a situation where the Republicans have added another demand: defund Obamacare. If they want to come up with some sort of agreement in which the GOP saves face, to me the logical way to do that would be for the Democrats to agree to drop their demand for tax hikes if the Republicans drop their demand for defunding Obamacare. What's left of the deal? You guessed it.

Here's Eskow, who rightly points out that the deficit scolds are out in force on Capitol Hill as we go into this intense period of budget negotiations:
Boehner will want to give his party’s Tea Party wing something in return for dropping their futile Obamacare attacks, and entitlements would be the perfect prize. As for the president, in a terse conversation with Boehner on Friday he merely said “he wouldn’t negotiate with him on the debt limit,” according to Boehner’s office. The president and White House officials have consistently echoed the line taken last Sunday by presidential economic advisor Gene Sperling on a reporters’ call. “The President is not going to negotiate over the debt limit,” said Sperling. (emphasis ours)

That’s an argument about process, not content. When it comes to “entitlement” spending, the two sides’ positions are disturbingly close. The president’s budget still contains the “chained CPI” cut. Boehner has talked about cutting these programs for years. On the Senate side, Republican Rob Portman of Ohio called for cutting “the 65 percent of the budget that is not touched: entitlements.”

And Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma said this: “If we found $700 billion in savings from entitlements — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — it would relieve pressure on the Pentagon and on non-mandatory spending. All the cuts they need are there to avoid a possible shutdown.”

“I suspect that on Social Security, we’ve got a somewhat similar position.” That’s what President Obama said about Mitt Romney in a presidential debate last year. He’s probably right.

When it comes to Medicare the two sides aren’t as close, but there’s still room for negotiation. Obama has long described Medicare’s costs as “unsustainable,” while saying little about the private-sector drivers underlying them. While he’s categorically rejected the GOP’s proposed dismantling of Medicare, he has already proposed reducing program benefits.

Both sides presumably wants a face-saving deal that each finds palatable. They’re most closely aligned on “entitlement cuts,” so an agreement to cut them is a very real possibility. It’s one we should fear – and resist.
Again, who knows? So far, we've been saved by the administration's insistence on temporary tax hikes in exchange for cutting SS and the silly tea partier's unwillingness to accept a great deal when it's offered. The question is if anything's changed. Does the addition of a smart, ambitious pol like Ted Cruz leading the charge to defund Obamacare make a difference? Are they more or less willing to take it to the limit now that sequestration is in effect? I guess we'll find out.