February 11, 2013

If this is accurate, then you may as well brace for the sequester cuts to hit, because it shows even more clearly than usual that Republicans view the sequester — which they themselves say will devastate the military and tank the economy — as preferable to giving up an additional penny in new revenues. The National Review scoops the Senate GOP’s next move, and note in particular the last paragraph:

Frustrated by the months of non-stop budget fights, Senate Republicans are set to mount a fiscal counteroffensive this week with the reintroduction of a balanced-budget amendment.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and minority whip John Cornyn are leading the effort. They hope to unveil a bill by Thursday with unanimous Republican support. [...]

House Republican aides say most conservatives in the lower chamber are going to support the Senate’s plan. Speeches and media appearances are being arranged for later this week. [...]

According to a Senate GOP aide, the legislation would cap federal spending at 18 percent of GDP. It would also require a supermajority for tax hikes and debt-limit increases.

This is nothing but gimmickry on every level. First, the Balanced Budget Amendment. Republicans pushed this idea during the debt ceiling fight of 2011. It is terrible and dangerous policy, as former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett has usefully detailed. Bartlett termed the idea, which would cap fiscal outlays at 18 percent of GDP, as “mind-boggling in its insanity.” Macroeconomics Advisers has said such a proposal would “quickly destroy millions of jobs while creating enormous economic and social upheaval.”

Equally eyebrow-raising is the call for a “supermajority for tax hikes and debt limit increases.” It’s unclear what is meant by a “supermajority,” but presumably we’re talking about either 60 or 67 votes required in the Senate and some similar proportion in the House. Either way, this would literally put an end to majority rule in Congress on major fiscal matters — at least when it comes to new revenues, and not when it comes to spending cuts. This is simply unhinged.

Requiring a supermajority on the debt ceiling is the direct opposite of fiscal responsibility: Since the debt ceiling only constitutes authorizing borrowing to pay bills already incurred by Congress, it could set spending by regular majority rule (as it currently does), while requiring a supermajority to borrow the money necessary to pay the bills it racks up. It would make default — and widespread economic havoc — more likely.

Republicans are pushing this only several months after an election which revealed them to be entirely out of step with the mainstream American view of the proper balance between new revenues and spending cuts to solve the country’s fiscal problems, and only weeks after they were forced to cave in the last debt ceiling fight. The GOP response to those outcomes is to lurch further to the right, and to double down on the need to peddle fiscal opium to the GOP base.

As I keep noting here, the GOP’s explicit, publicly stated position is that no compromise of any kind to avert the sequester is acceptable (it must only be offset with spending cuts). Meanwhile, the Dems’ explicit, publicly stated position is that both sides should make roughly equivalent concessions (spending cuts and new revenues) to avert the sequester. This is tough for many to swallow — note George Stephanopoulos’ incredulity yesterday that Republicans won’t agree to any new revenues — but it is an objectively true description of the two sides’ positions.

Now things have just gotten worse. Rather than agree to a penny in new revenues, Republicans are taking refuge behind a series of outright gimmicks that have no chance whatsoever of becoming reality, ever. If this latest round of proposals doesn’t prove enough to persuade neutral commentators of the fundamental and dramatic imbalance between the two parties’ approaches to the sequester battle — one whose outcome could have enormous negative consequences for the country — than nothing will.

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