February 6, 2013

Republicans continue insisting today that the only acceptable way of averting the sequester is to replace its scheduled spending cuts with nothing but more spending cuts elsewhere. No new revenues. Period, full stop.

President Obama continues to demand a mix of spending cuts and new revenues via the closing of loopholes, and yesterday he called on Congress to agree on a short term package of cuts and tax reforms to temporarily delay the sequester cuts, since they could cripple the recovery. GOP leaders shot this down, because they continue to refuse to countenance any new revenues. As John Boehner put it today: “The American people believe that the tax question has been settled.”

Meanwhile, other Republicans are taking other steps to avoid agreeing to new revenues. Republicans on the Senate and House Armed Services Committee will unveil a plan today to avert the sequester for one year by paying for it with … a 10 percent across the board reduction in the federal workforce. (That would do wonders for the recovery.)

So, here’s a chart, created by House progressives, that perfectly captures just how absurd it is that Republicans insist only on spending cuts to replace the sequester, while refusing to entertain a penny in new revenues from the rich. It shows what happened during the last two Congressional rounds of deficit reduction:

The first circle represents the more than $1.5 trillion in spending cuts Dems agreed to, in exchange for zero in new revenues, as part of the debt ceiling deal of 2011. The second circle portrays the state of play after Republicans agreed to some $700 billion in new revenues as part of the recent fiscal cliff deal. As you can see, the ledger is still tilted lopsidedly in favor of Republicans: Some 70 percent of the deficit reduction we’ve seen thus far came in the form of spending cuts Republicans want, while only 30 percent came in the form of the new revenues Democrats want.

Here’s what this means: Even if the parties reach a deal in the third round of deficit reduction to avert the sequester with something approaching an equivalent sum of spending cuts and new revenues, the overall deficit reduction balance would still be heavily lopsided towards Republicans. Yet they continue to insist on resolving round three only through cuts, anyway.

The simple reality here is that there is an easy way for Republicans to get the very spending cuts they want. All they have to do is drop their opposition to more in revenues via the closing of loopholes — something they were prepared to accept last year in any case. There’s simply no doubt that Obama and Dems are prepared to give them more in spending cuts if they do. And if Republicans gave ground on this point, the math shows that they would still emerge the “winners” — our deficit problem will have been resolved mostly their way. Yet this still isn’t good enough: They would rather allow a sequester to go through than make any more concessions. As Steve Benen notes, we know this sequester would do severe damage to the economy, because the Congressional Budget Office has told us so, and because the recent economic contraction also confirmed this.

By the way: Not all Republicans are prepared to allow the sequester to go through. Indeed, the fact that Armed Services Committee Republicans are pushing for a 10 percent reduction in the federal workforce to avoid it shows there is not unanimity on this point. But that, too, is just a gimmick.

The way out is clear: Agree to a genuine compromise already.

More on this issue:

Dana Milbank: Republicans’ empty happy talk

The Post’s View: GOP should take up Obama’s sequester offer

Greg Sargent: Memo to Congress — to cut the deficit, focus on jobs

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