For all the continued chatter this morning about the sincerity and limits of presidential schmoozing, the real reason for the fiscal impasse is hiding right there in plain sight, and it can be summed up in two sentences:
1) Obama can’t sell entitlement cuts to his base, or indeed Democrats in general, without Republicans agreeing to new revenues, and has offered them a straightforward compromise — one that would anger the base on both sides — based on the premise that total victory for the GOP is not an acceptable or realistic outcome.
2) Republican leaders can’t even begin to acknowledge that Obama has offered them a real compromise, because they can’t sell their base on the idea that the President is being flexible, let alone get them to seriously entertain accepting any compromise with him, because the base sees total victory over Obama as the only acceptable outcome.
In essence, a variety of political constraints prevent Republican leaders from acknowledging the reality of the situation. That makes any reality-based dialog impossible. The press has largely failed to reckon with this basic disconnect, which is why the discussion continues to spin its wheels around irrelevant questions, such as whether the president’s outreach is “sincere” enough, as if hurt feelings have anything at all to do with the stalemate, or whether Democrats have gone quite far enough with their offer to Republicans, when the latter won’t even say whether there’s any compromise they could accept.
In his meeting with Republican Senators, Obama reportedly presented them with a choice: They can accept a deal that includes Chained CPI for Social Security and means testing of Medicare in exchange for new revenues, or end up with no entitlement reform. Republicans continue to respond by claiming the President is being inflexible — by pretending he hasn’t offered them what he has offered — while refusing to say what could induce them to compromise.
Ultimately, though, the GOP’s reality-denying strategy is self defeating, and will make it harder for Republicans to agree to a way out of the impasse. In addition to refusing to acknowledge what Obama has offered on entitlements, Republican leaders also continue to refuse to acknowledge all the spending cuts ($1.5 trillion in 2011) Obama and Dems have already agreed to. This is partly because admitting to all of this would reveal the GOP’s own intransigence to the public with too much clarity. But there’s another reason for it, which is aptly spelled out by Steve Kornacki. John Boehner can’t admit to any of it for his own self-interested political reasons:
When it comes to Obama’s current quest for a grand bargain, there’s really nothing for Boehner to do but repeat the right’s familiar attacks on Obama for always wanting to raise taxes and never wanting to cut spending. Never mind, of course, that Obama has already signed off on $2.5 trillion in deficit reduction and is seeking $1.2 trillion more with his grand bargain crusade, and that most of that money is from spending cuts. Acknowledging that would destroy whatever credibility Boehner now has with the conservative base, and make it impossible for him to push any kind of deal through the House without being dethroned. So he bashes away, pretends the problem is Obama’s inflexible liberalism and waits. What the end-game is is unclear.
Keeping the base in the dark about the offer Obama has actually made and the spending cuts Obama has already agreed to will only make it harder to get conservatives to accept a deal later. Which is why it’s looking more and more like we’re stuck in a position where sequestration will drag on and on and we’ll lurch from one “continuing resolution” to the next and from one crisis (debt ceiling, anyone?) to another. Republicans will gamely claim the sequester is a “victory” for them, but in truth, being the party of austerity-only-and-forever and crisis-to-crisis governing is not a sustainable long term posture.
* Mitch McConnell distorting Senate Dems’ budget: In case you need more evidence of the above dynamic, the Senate GOP leader keeps claiming the new Dem budget would raise taxes by $1.5 trillion. But Glenn Kessler details that this is a real stretch and that there is grounds for accepting the Dems’ claims about taxes at face value. The budget contains an even split of $975 billion in spending cuts and $975 billion in new revenues. (Also see Brian Beutler.)
Republicans need to consistently distort the true nature of the compromise Dems are offering — a roughly equivalent split in cuts and revenues, and sometimes more in cuts — because acknowledging the actual offer would reveal the absurdity of their own position (we must reduce the deficit 100 percent our way).
* What if the best budget is the progressive one? Paul Krugman has a must read on this week’s three budgets, concluding that the Beltway fascination with Paul Ryan is finally wearing off and that the only plan that is rooted in macro-economic reality is the progressive one. Of course, the progressive budget is also the only one that is not receiving widespread attention in Washington — yet another sign of just how marginalized progressive economics have become.
* Obama plans big clean energy push: Today the President will propose using $2 billion in revenue from federal oil and gas leases to fund research on ways to replace hydrocarbons as the fuel for cars, buses, and trucks. The idea — which will almost certainly be opposed by Congressional Republicans, even though it has some business support — underscores yet again how limited his options are for acting on climate change in the face of Republican opposition, requiring him to act wherever possible, including via executive action.
* Background checks in doubt: Democrats are growing increasingly pessimistic that they will be able to win over any Republican Senators to support expanded background checks, with the exception of Illinois’ Mark Kirk (who doesn’t really count because of his dismal NRA rating). Looks like those of us who imagined that a handful of Republican Senators might support something backed by nine in 10 Americans, and over eight in 10 Republicans, were being too optimistic.
* Rob Portman comes out for gay marriage: Senator Rob Portman, a prominent Ohio conservative, reverses course and backs gay marriage. Of course, Portman was only prompted to do so because he’d learned two years ago that his son is gay; he says he came out now because the Supreme Court is hearing gay marriage cases, and he expected to be asked his position. Every little event that sends a message that the culture is changing is helpful.
* Maybe Portman should progress on other issues, too: A good question from Steve Benen: “if his son came out as unemployed, would the senator give another look to economic stimulus and extended jobless benefits?”
* And why is Portman’s shift news? I also liked Taegan Goddard’s response: “This is newsworthy, but it wouldn’t be if opponents of same-sex marriage thought of other people’s kids.”