The Morning Plum: A tale of two Washington lies

Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently got called out by fact checkers for falsely claiming that sequestration cuts were already leading to “pink slips” for teachers. He apologized.

John Boehner yesterday got called out by fact checkers for falsely claiming Senate Dems don’t have a plan to replace the sequester. His spokesman didn’t apologize. Instead, he doubled down, claiming:

“A plan must demonstrate it has the ability to pass a chamber of Congress to be worth anything. We’ve twice passed a plan. We’re still waiting for the Senate to pass something, anything.”

Of course, the reason the Dem plan did not pass the Senate is because Republicans filibustered it. And so, the position of the leadership in the House of Representatives, without any exaggeration, is that the Senate Democratic plan to replace the sequester doesn’t count as a real plan because Senate Republicans are insisting that a supermajority should be required to pass it.

Steve Benen has an excellent post this morning juxtaposing the two responses to these falsehoods. As Benen notes, this is a perfect indication of the fact that “the two sides of the political divide are playing by a very different set of rules.”

I’d take this a step further and point out that this perfectly symbolizes the ways that both sides have been playing by a very different set of rules throughout this whole fiscal debate. Consider the difference in the nature of the two lies above. The Dem lie is about the impact of the sequester; the Republican one is about how to avert it. And on that latter score, the entire Republican position in the debate is based on a lie. As Jonathan Chait has detailed, multiple Republican officials are simply refusing to acknowledge what it is Democrats are actually offering them as a compromise to reduce the deficit — a mix of cuts to retirement programs and new revenues via the closing of loopholes. Instead, they continue to act as if Obama is only demanding more tax hikes to reduce the deficit. Chait says this is “crazy.” Yes, but it’s also strategic: This lie is absolutely necessary in order to obscure the profound absurdity of the GOP position — that we must only reduce the deficit through spending cuts, i.e., 100 percent of what Republicans want.

Democrats, meanwhile, have unquestionably been guilty of exaggerations and falsehoods when it comes to the impact of the sequester. There’s the Duncan falsehood, and another recent one where Obama falsely claimed Capitol janitors are getting a pay cut. But when it comes to the most important question in this entire debate — how should we resolve the great fiscal problems facing the country — the Democratic position is grounded in the truth. It is objectively true, as Democrats point out, that Dems are offering a compromise to resolve our fiscal problems, while Republicans are refusing to accept any compromise to resolve them. Meanwhile, the Republican representation of the fundamental differences between the two parties — again, on the most important question at the heart of this crisis — is objectively false. It’s grounded in lies.

At bottom, the raging “false equivalency” debate — the argument over the role of pundits in assigning blame for the standoff — cannot be resolved until this basic imbalance is acknowledged and accepted. At this point, I’m not sure it ever will be.

* Talks on background checks may be in peril: The Hill has more on what I reported last month: The bipartisan talks over expanding background checks may have hit an impasse that will be difficult to overcome. It appears Tom Coburn, who initially talked a good game, may be deliberately trying to scuttle the talks, by continuing to air concerns about record keeping on sales, which would not — repeat, would not — create the fictional gun registry invented by the “gun rights” brigade.

It is not impossible that this could pass without Coburn’s support. You’d think a few Senate Republicans would support something that is backed by nine out of 10 Americans, including eight in 10 Republicans.

* How will Dems respond to GOP sequester strategy? House Republicans have introduced a bill that would extend funding of the government at sequester levels through September, while mitigating the impact the defense cuts will have. As the Post overview details, this leaves Dems with a dilemma: Do they accept the GOP approach, or do they try to force mitigating changes to the non-defense cuts, too?

* GOP position on deficit backed by one third of country: A new CBS News poll finds that 56 percent support a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts to reduce the deficit (including 55 percent of independents) while only 35 percent (and 36 percent of independents) back reducing it only with spending cuts. The former is the Dem position, while the latter is the GOP position.

And so, the next time you hear a GOP leader claim that “the tax debate is over,” remember that this position is supported by barely more than one third of Americans.

 

* What’s next for Obama on climate change? John Broder and Matthew Wald have a useful overview of the myriad challenges Obama faces as he seeks to focus his second term on climate change in a way that eluded him in his first, and how his choice for EPA chief could signal an aggressive use of executive action to help make it happen. The big looming decision is whether to crack down on emissions from existing plants, which could provoke a major fight that could drain political will from efforts on other fronts.

* DCCC rolls out list of most vulnerable members: The DCCC today announced its list of “frontline” members — i.e., the vulnerable incumbent Dems who will require the most aggressive defense in the 2014 elections. Here they are:

Ron Barber (AZ-02), John Barrow (GA-12), Ami Bera (CA-07), Tim Bishop (NY-01), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Lois Capps (CA-24), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), Bill Enyart (IL-12), Elizabeth Esty (CT-05), Pete Gallego (TX-2), Joe Garcia (FL-26), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Dan Maffei (NY-24), Jim Matheson (UT-04), Mike McIntyre (NC-07), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Bill Owens (NY-21), Scott Peters (CA-52), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Brad Schneider (IL-10), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), John Tierney (MA-06).

Most analysts think that it will be very hard for Dems to win the 17 seats they need to win back the House, but one thing that is certain is that their efforts will turn on successfully defending these seats. So these pols are worth watching.

* Jeb Bush’s immigration flip flop doesn’t bode well for reform: National Journal has an interesting analysis of the motives behind Jeb Bush’s decision to oppose a path to citizenship in his new book, a flip flop from previous support. This could make it harder to sell Republicans on the path to citizenship and offers an interesting glimpse into just how conflicted the party is on an issue where a change of thinking could prove critical to its long term health.

* No, Paul Krugman is not all alone on deficit: I continue to enjoy the ongoing dustup between Paul Krugman and Joe Scarborough, in which the latter has suggested that Krugman is all alone in believing that we don’t need to dramatically slash the deficit right now, amid the fragile recovery. Now economist Alan Blinder weighs in on Krugman’s side, and sets the record straight, noting that this is a perfectly sensible view shared by many economists.

As always, the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop continues to ensure that such views will remain thoroughly marginalized.

* Austerity is hurting our economy: Speaking of the Beltway Deficit Feedback loop, Suzy Khimm has a pretty instructive chart that details just how much deficit reduction we’ve already secured — and how much of a drag it has been on economic growth. It’s yet another sign that we’re trapped in the wrong conversation.

 

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