January 23, 2013

When it comes down to it, the current governing crisis we’re dealing with right now is the result of the same old problem: Republicans who claim to care about the deficit don’t want to agree to any more deficit reduction in the form of new revenues from rich people.

Today the House GOP is set to vote on its novel scheme to suspend the debt limit, rather than raise it, until May 18th. House conservatives see this as surrender, since they are getting nothing in return for taking default off the table. House Dem aides tell me they are whipping Dems to vote No, putting more pressure on Boehner to come up with 218 votes himself. If Boehner can’t get this passed, we’re looking at another “Plan B” fiasco, and another blow to his leadership.

So House GOP leaders have given conservatives some incentives to vote for the debt ceiling extension. According to Jonathan Weisman and Conn Carroll, House conservatives are being offered a deal: If they support today’s measure, Republican leaders will allow the sequestered spending cuts to go forward (or find equivalent cuts elsewhere) and will also produce a budget that balances in 10 years. Boehner reportedly vowed to House conservatives that the GOP will come up with a budget blueprint that would wipe out deficits “within the decade.”

But Republicans themselves, Boehner included, have insisted that the sequestered defense cuts will devastate national security. As for balancing the budget in 10 years, that will require extraordinarily deep spending cuts that (I wager) Republicans will ultimately have a hard time embracing (if they come up with them at all), despite their professed zeal to cut government.

And so again the overarching problem remains what it has been for some time: Republicans want to be able to claim the mantle of deficit reduction, but remain intractably opposed to more revenues from the rich, so they have to publicly embrace deficit reduction schemes that are destructive and unrealistic.

Nothing is going to change as long as this is the driving dynamic. Yes, Republicans agreed to tax hikes on the rich when forced to during the fiscal cliff standoff, but the ledger is still balanced in the GOP’s direction: Obama and Dems already agreed in 2011 to over $1 trillion in spending cuts, while the GOP has agreed to $600 billion in new revenues. More revenues are required — but the GOP still resists this at all costs.

Even if the House does pass today’s debt ceiling extension, removing the threat of default, we’ll simply bump up against this problem in a few weeks, when the battle over the sequester and potential government shutdown begins. If Republicans really want deficit reduction, they simply need to accept that it will have to be accomplished through a mix of spending cuts and new revenues, via closing loopholes on the wealthy. Which is to say that it will be accomplished via a compromise, in which both sides makes concessions.

UPDATE: A slight correction. I’m told Dem leaders are not whipping No votes, but rather are encouraging No votes, which is to say there’s somewhat less pressure being brought to bear. All in all, though, the practical effect may be similar: If Dems hold out against the plan it puts more pressure on Boehner to come up with the votes himself.

* GOP struggles to find role as opposition party: Relatedly, the Times has an interesting look at Republicans who are slowly coming to terms with the fact that they lost the election and as a result won’t be able to dictate the nation’s policy agenda. There seems to be some recognition — get this — that some form of compromise will be inevitable. And:

“The public is not behind us, and that’s a real problem for our party,” said Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, a Republican who has clashed with his party’s leadership.

Jonathan Bernstein noted the other day that the GOP simply lacks a well developed set of policy ideas that have any chance of winning broad public appeal, making it harder for it to function as a normal opposition party.

* GOP won’t balance budget in 10 years: As Steve Benen notes, the notion that Paul Ryan will produce such a budget is simply laughable:

Now, however, Ryan intends to unveil a plan to balance the budget in one decade instead of three. Take a wild guess what that means. It means, of course, that Ryan will either present a budget plan so absurd that it will be literally laughable, filled with outrageous magic asterisks, or it will be the most brutal and regressive plan ever seriously considered by a major American political party.

* Prospects brighten for action on guns: The Hill reports that Harry Reid will allow an open amendment process on the gun reforms set to hit the Senate floor. This means there will likely be separate votes on individual provisions of the package, such as universal background checks.

Since that provision has overwhelming public support, and since it’s such a no-brainer, it will be harder for Republicans (and red state Dems) to oppose it, making the prospects for some sort of legislative action possible.

* Is the NRA open to background checks? Also in the above link: Dem Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a longtime gun reform advocate, says she met with the NRA’s chief lobbyist and came away believing that the organization could be open to some kind of compromise on background checks. The sticking point seems to be over guns getting passed down within families, which McCarthy says can be dealt with.

All the more reason, then, for red state Dems to stop being squeamish about background checks and show full support for them right now.

* More lies from the NRA: Of course, the prospects for NRA cooperation on background checks may be dimmed somewhat by the angry speech the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre delivered yesterday, in which he claimed the only two reasons the feds would want to expand the background check system are these: “Either to tax them, or to take them.”

The only way the NRA can make any kind of argument against the sensible policy goal of improving background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill is to lie about it.

* Translating Obama’s historic words on gay rights into action: National Journal has a good rundown of the remaining work there is to be done on the part of the Obama administration in moving towards full equality for gays. There is also the hope that Obama’s Justice Department will file a legal brief in the Prop 8 case.

To reiterate: None of this means Obama’s record isn’t sterling on gay issues. Rather, the point is that Obama’s own historic words — and this is a good thing — are a moral impetus to further action.

* And the “Obama majority” has arrived: A terrific piece by Harold Meyerson details that Obama’s expansively progressive Inaugural Address was ultimately a bet on the changing face of America:

The Obama Majority — its existence and mobilization — is what enabled the president to deliver so ideological an address. No such inaugural speech has been delivered since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, demanding the curtailment of government programs and secure in the knowledge that much of the white working class had shifted its allegiance away from the Democrats and supported his attack on the public sector and minority rights. On Monday, Obama, secure in the knowledge that the nation’s minorities had joined with other liberal constituencies to form a new governing coalition, voiced their demands to ensure equality and to preserve and expand the government’s efforts to meet the nation’s challenges.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.