February 7, 2013

There’s been a good deal of chatter to the effect that Republicans still retain leverage in the sequester fight, because some of them are willing to let the sequester happen. But Politico reports that GOP resolve is cracking, with GOPers privately conceding that they’d prefer to reach a deal, because the politics of allowing deep spending cuts, a gutting of defense, and a major hit to the economy are too dangerous.

Of course, GOP aides continue to say they want a deal, but only on their terms — which is to say, they’ll only accept a deal that averts the sequester through spending cuts alone, with no new revenues.

Herein lies the fundamental weakness of the GOP position. The problem is that Republicans who care about defense are now on record claiming the sequester will threaten our national security. As Lindsey Graham put it yesterday: “I’m sure Iran is very supportive of sequestration.”

Which raises a question: If the sequester will help our enemies, and put the country at risk, shouldn’t Republicans be willing to discuss closing tax loopholes that benefit the rich and corporations — the same loopholes they were previously willing to entertain closing — to avoid it?

Senate Democrats are drawing up a plan to avert the sequester by limiting tax breaks for oil and gas exploration, nixing tax breaks for private equity employees who pay a lower capital gains tax, and other measures. The idea is to put pressure on Republicans to choose between protecting tax breaks for special interests on one side, and gutting defense and tanking the economy on the other.

This is a tough position to be in, as Politico reports, but it’s made worse by an inconvenient fact: If Republicans were to agree to closing loopholes, they would also get some of the spending cuts they want. In other words, the choice isn’t: Either give Dems what they want while getting nothing in return or let the sequester destroy the economy. Rather, the choice is: Reach a compromise that gives both sides some of what they want or let the sequester destroy the economy.

Republicans have dealt with this problem by pretending that Dems aren’t actually willing to cut spending. As John Boehner put it yesterday: “At some point, Washington has to deal with its spending problem.” But of course, Dems have not only agreed to cut spending; they have already accepted a good deal more in spending cuts than Republicans have agreed to in new revenues. And the plain fact is that Obama has reiterated that the same spending and entitlement cuts he offered in 2011 are still on the table, even irking his own base in the process.

Ultimately, what this comes down to is that the public is less likely to see Republicans as the party that’s acting in good faith here. Since Republicans are on record claiming the sequester will help the enemy and even admitting it will tank the recovery, are they really going to protect loopholes and deductions enjoyed by the rich and corporations — again, as part of a compromise that gives them some of what they want, too — rather than avoid such an outcome?

* Poll shows Dems hold middle ground on immigration: A new Quinnipiac poll asks the immigration question in an interesting way:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently living in the United States? A) They should be allowed to stay in the United States and to eventually apply for US citizenship. B) They should be allowed to remain in the United States, but not be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship. C) They should be required to leave the U.S.

Stay/citizenship: 56

Stay/not citizen: 10

Not stay: 30

Note that the poll gives the full range of options, including the one Republicans have been claiming is the “middle ground,” i.e., legal status with no citizenship. That “middle ground” is supported by 10 percent (add in deportation and it’s 40 percent), while citizenship is supported by 56 percent. Yup, Dems occupy the middle ground here.

* Overwhelming public support for background checks: The Quinnipac poll also finds that 92 percent of Americans, including 89 percent of Republicans, supports requiring a background check for all would be gun buyers. Fifty six percent support banning assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips.

It’s often claimed that red state Dems face political pressures on guns that aren’t in line with national public opinion, but given the truly overwhelming support for universal background checks, is there really any chance it’s controversial anywhere?

* Public has no idea how extreme NRA really is: Also from the Quinnipiac poll, this is critical:

Who do you think better reflects your views on guns, President Obama or the National Rifle Association?

Obama: 43

NRA: 46

Okay, so nine in 10 Americans supports universal background checks, and solid majorities back the assault ban, both of which are opposed by the NRA and regularly characterized by the organization as gun-grabbing tyranny — yet people think the NRA better represents their views. There’s been a lot of chortling on the right about the NRA’s favorability ratings, but this poll makes it plain: People don’t have any idea what the NRA really stands for.

* Joe Biden pushes Dems on guns: The Vice President gave a speech to House Democrats urging them to support Obama’s full gun package. This nugget is really interesting:

“The ability, because of all this happening, to misrepresent our positions no longer exists as it did in 1994,” Biden said. “The world has changed. The American public has changed. You can go into areas you’re told you can’t go and politically survive. I’m telling you, the times have changed.”

The Internet and social media have perhaps made it harder for anti-gun-control propagandists to get away with lying to voters about the actual proposals in specific geographic areas without being countered aggressively. Biden’s audience: Blue Dog and red state Dems who tend to reflexively conclude that the “gun rights” argument can’t be defeated.

* John Brennan must be pressed on secrecy: The Post editorial board lays out the questions that still must be answered about the administration’s secrecy around the drone program and the legal justification for targeting American citizens suspected of being terrorists. Democrats in particular should press hard for transparency, more information, and meaningful Congressional oversight of these activities.

* Administration will release targeted killing rationale: The news broke last night that the Justice Department will, in fact, release to Congress the Office of Legal Counsel memo justifying the targeting of American citizens. There are still a host of outstanding questions about the administration’s legal thinking that must be answered today.

* And the deficit ledger is still tilted towards GOP: Digby takes a look at my chart from yesterday and argues: Dems have been complicit in ensuring that the deficit is being mostly resolved through spending cuts. In an overall sense, the conversation in Washington has mostly unfolded within a conservative economic frame. Note that the progressive solution to the deficit has no chance of being taken seriously in D.C., let alone acted upon.

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.