Great items today from Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein on the perverse Republican strategy of demanding what the Democratic position should be on Medicare. Not what Republican position Democrats should agree with, but what the Democrats' own offer should be.
While somewhat bizarre, this isn't new. Remember, one of Paul Ryan's big talking points for some time now has been that Barack Obama should support Simpson-Bowles -- not that Simpson-Bowles should happen (Ryan was against that) but that Obama should support it.
So what accounts for this? First, as Sargent says, Republican positions on these issues simply aren't very popular. People like Medicare! So it's better for Obama to embrace these cuts than for Republicans to be saddled with pushing them.
Second, as Klein points out, there's a question of policy capacity. It's possible that Republicans really don't have any ideas on how to trim spending on Medicare. They have, more or less, a plan to transform it, but not one to cut spending from the existing program. Of course, part of the reason for that is Obama himself has endorsed numerous cost-cutting ideas -- many of which wound up in the Affordable Care Act, which means that Republicans have to oppose them.
Third, I think, is we're seeing the Republican "War on Budgeting" in action. Republicans don't really care about budget deficits. They care about cutting spending on things that they don't like (and keeping certain taxes as low as possible), but they really aren't all that concerned about the way it all adds up. What that may mean with Medicare is that eliminating Medicare-as-we-know-it is very important to the GOP, but beyond that, it doesn't much matter. Indeed, that's why they don't care that getting rid of the Affordable Care Act actually would add to the budget deficit.
All this means that getting to a deal is a lot harder than one might think. After all, budget deals are usually by their nature rather easy. Yes, there's plenty of hard bargaining on the way, but at the end of the day if you want one number and I want another, it's easy to compromise somewhere in the middle. But if you're insisting on naming my offer for me and refusing to name your own, well, that's going to make things a lot harder. And if one side isn't willing to reconcile its own preferences so that they add up, it's even tougher for negotiations to work well.
That said, this could all turn out just to be the public maneuvering and bargaining gamesmanship that are all part of the normal process. So we'll just have to watch and see how it develops over the next few weeks. But the Republicans' rhetoric at least is truly bizarre.