Today Obama rolls out his new budget, which, as expected, includes cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. In exchange, the proposal asks for significant new revenues from the wealthy, and new spending on preschool education and on job creation via infrastructure investments.
One key question: Is this offer a starting point or an end point?
Senior administration officials who briefed a number of us late yesterday repeatedly insisted that the White House will not move any further in the GOP’s direction if Republicans try to pocket the entitlement cuts while refusing to make any concessions. The officials say that without new revenues, no deal is possible.
The details of the deal are as follows. On the spending cut side, it contains Chained CPI for Social Security and means testing for Medicare, as well as $400 billion in provider-side Medicare cuts and a few hundred billion in other cuts. On the revenue and stimulus side, it calls for $580 billion in new revenues from closing loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy, as well as a modest $50 billion in infrastructure spending.
The administration officials insisted yesterday that Obama does not view Chained CPI as good policy. This is about demonstrating the White House’s willingness to reach a compromise in which both sides make concessions. And so, presuming that Republicans won’t accept this offer — even though Mitch McConnell and John Boehner themselves previously asked for the concessions in it — this is ultimately an effort to bring clarity to the debate, by illustrating that one side is willing to compromise to replace the sequester and reduce the deficit, and the other side simply isn’t.
As Brian Beutler puts it, the budget is a “final offer of good faith to Republicans in Congress, who’ve been demanding Obama propose and take ownership of entitlement cuts for years.”
The response from liberals to Obama’s latest offer has been threefold: They have denounced Chained CPI as terrible policy. They argue offering concessions to Republicans up front can only lead to giving up more concessions. And they note that positioning to win over the Very Serious People either won’t work — since the deficit scolds will never acknowledge that one side is more to blame than the other — or won’t politically matter over time.
I agree that Chained CPI is terrible policy. But on the last two objections, only time will tell who is right. It’s welcome that the White House is vowing not to budge off its current offer, but only the White House can ensure that this promise holds over time. And only time will tell whether the White House’s effort to clarify the debate by offering serious concessions — at risk of badly alienating the Dem base — will win over the Very Serious People and whether that ends up paying any political dividends over time.
In the end, the situation may simply be that we are stuck with extended sequestration, so the White House’s only option is to do all it can to maximize the political price Republicans pay for their continuing intransigence. It’s genuinely unclear what happens next.
* Bipartisan deal reached on background checks: Multiple outlets are reporting that Senators Pat Toomey and Joe Manchin have reached a deal “in principle” on a compromise for expanded background checks, and will unveil it at a presser later this morning. A Senate Dem aide tells me the compromise is the one I first reported on in March: It will include background checks for private sales done through commercial portals (gun shows, web site clearinghouses) while exempting private person to person transfers.
This is a major step forward, particularly since the deal apparently requires record keeping on the private sales it does cover.
* The Toomey-Manchin compromise would be effective: The New York Times explains it well:
Though it closes the biggest loopholes, the bill would not require checks for unadvertised gun transfers between individuals, like from one family member to another. This removes the important principle that every gun sale should require a background check, but the number of such sales is small enough that the bill would still be effective.
Yes, and it would certainly be a major improvement over the status quo.
* Will Republicans keep up filibuster on guns? With Harry Reid set to introduce the gun legislation tomorrow, all signs are that a hard right bloc of GOP Senators will continue trying to block debate on it. Joe Scarborough frames the stakes for his party:
“Republicans are planning to filibuster a 92 percent issue … something that involves the massacre of 20 first-grade children. Is anyone awake in my party on the Hill?”
Actually, the answer is Yes — for now, anyway. As noted here yesterday, as many as 10 Republican Senators will buck the far right bloc and will vote to move to debate. Of course, this doesn’t mean that final passage doesn’t remain extremely difficult.
* Republicans fret about gun filibuster: It’s still possible Rand Paul or Ted Cruz could stage a talking filibuster to block debate on guns, one similar to Paul’s drone filibuster. Apparently this has Republicans worried:
One member of Senate leadership, speaking on condition of anonymity so as not to violate personal confidences, said there’s a sense among the top GOP lawmakers that such a public display could further damage the already-battered Republican brand.
Ya think? Blocking debate on a proposal backed by nine in 10 Americans, in the wake of the slaughter of 20 children, could make folks wonder whether the GOP has lost the ability to address the country’s problems?
* White House to ratchet up pressure on judicial nominations: This is welcome: The White House and Senate Dems seem to be getting more serious about pressuring Republicans to stop filibustering judicial nominations, and is threatening to revisit filibuster reform if they keep it up.
Obama has lagged badly in this area, with potential consequences for the long term staying power of his agenda in the courts. And so, if Dems are going to threaten rules reform over this, they must mean it.
* And obstruction of nominees is the new normal: The Post edit board considers the prospect of more GOP obstruction of Sri Srinivasan, a nominee to the D.C. Circuit who’ll be the subject of a Senate hearing today:
it would be a counterproductive mistake for lawmakers to confuse consideration of Mr. Srinivasan’s nomination with a vote on the Obama years or policies. It’s not. It’s about the institutional interest that both parties have in allowing presidents to staff the government and judiciary with well-qualified nominees of their choice, a norm that senators of both parties have eroded, we hope not irreparably.
GOP obstructionism for the sole purpose of gumming up the works of government has become the new normal.