February 19, 2013

Over the weekend, Paul Ryan reiterated his party’s refusal to agree to any new revenues to avert the sequester. It looks all but certain that the sequester is going to hit.

What keeps getting lost here is that if Republicans did agree to new revenues, they’d likely get more in new spending cuts than they’d have to concede in new loophole closings. Jonathan Chait gets this basic dynamic right:

What’s remarkable about the ability of anti-tax zealots like Ryan to sustain their position is that it places them in direct opposition to conservative goals on both defense and spending. After all, Obama is offering to cut spending on retirement programs and to cancel out cuts to defense — two things large chunks of the GOP would like — in return for more revenue. He’s not even demanding higher rates. He’s merely asking to reduce tax deductions.

Chait notes that this is an obstacle to any hopes for any GOP makeover:

Obama has been offering to reduce spending on Social Security and Medicare for two years now, in return for Republican agreement to spread the burden of the fiscal adjustment. They won’t take the deal…if Republicans want to reform their party’s identity and make it into something other than absolutist advocacy of low taxes for the rich, they need to come up with some negotiating position on fiscal issues other than “no tax hikes for the rich of any kind no matter what we get in return.”

Despite the barbed tone, this amounts to a straightforward factual description of the current GOP stance. Last week, I asked the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities to run the numbers: If Republicans were to agree to a few hundred billion in new revenues to avert the sequester — in exchange for far more in spending cuts — the overall cuts-to-revenues ledger of deficit reduction in the last few years would favor the GOP by a ratio of two to one. In such a scenario, Republicans could very rightly declare victory. But the absolutist no-new-revenues stance precludes this option.

Another basic fact about this that continues to get lost is that Republicans were previously willing to entertain closing such loopholes, back during the fiscal cliff fight when it was seen as a good way to avoid rate hikes. Now Republicans won’t touch them — even if it would mean they’d emerge the overall winners in the process.

Chait characterizes the GOP position as “no tax hikes for the rich of any kind no matter what we get in return.” Is that even much of an exaggeration? It really isn’t. Worse, this comes after an election in which multiple polls showed that the public very much is persuaded that Republican policies and priorities are skewed towards the rich. I continue to find it impossible to believe that the smartest GOP strategists really think the party can solve its problems by tweaking its tone, pushing forward Marco Rubio to soft-peddle the same old ideas (even his immigration reform push is hitting a snag), and hoping that Obama’s ability to capitalize on ongoing demographic shifts was a fluke that the next Democratic presidential candidate won’t be able to pull off.

Seriously: Why don’t Republicans take the Senate plan to avert the sequester, replace the cuts in it with ones Republicans like, agree to the Buffett rule, and put the tax debate behind them in a way that counters, rather than reinforces, impressions of the party’s slavish devotion to the rich? After all, the Buffett rule would only ensure that millionaires and billionaires don’t pay a far lower rate than many middle class taxpayers do. This is a pretty painless way for Republicans to show that they aren’t the handmaidens of the rich Dems claim they are. Republicans can murmur a bunch of stuff about how the Buffett rule won’t really do anything to fix the deficit, and about how these crazy Democrats are making Republicans do it in order to avoid debilitating cuts to defense. This is by far the easiest way out — and Republicans could rightly declare victory.

 

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