January 3, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama
House Speaker John Boehner and President Barack Obama speak to reporters. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Steve Benen notes Republican demands on the sequester and the debt limit:

In other words, according to public comments from McConnell and Boehner, Republicans seriously believe President Obama must accept $2.7 trillion in cuts — without raising taxes at all — within the next two months. And if not, there will be an enormous crisis.

And what is it, exactly, that GOP leaders expect to cut by $2.7 trillion? Oddly enough, they haven’t said, but (a) Republicans apparently anticipate deep cuts to social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security; and (b) Democrats are supposed to help Republicans come up with the list of cuts.

That $2.7 trillion includes both money to replace the sequester as well as cuts — unspecified cuts — that Republicans are asking for as blackmail payments for not defaulting the nation.  

The problem isn’t really that the demands are outrageous; any group has a right to advocate for what they want. No, the problem is that Republicans refuse to specify what they want — in fact, they demand, as Benen points out, that Obama take the lead in specifying cuts.

What should Obama do? Perhaps something along these lines: He could give a speech about how awful the last round of fiscal cliff negotiations were, and suggest a public process this time, live on C-SPAN. There would only be one catch: You only get into the room if you have a detailed proposal. If it’s higher taxes, you need specific tax increases; if it’s spending cuts, you need detailed, specific proposed cuts. So he challenges anyone in Congress who wants to be taken seriously to show up for a televised summit…but to release the proposal 24 hours (or 72 hours or whatever) before they walk into the room. 

Obama would, presumably, only propose enough cuts to cover the sequester. Or perhaps Democrats would make multiple offers: Obama could walk in with a larger deal of cuts and revenues, Nancy Pelosi could propose an alternative cuts-only (mostly defense cuts) replacement for the sequester, and Harry Reid could propose to use tax increases and spending cuts to replace the sequester. Republicans could make multiple suggestions as well. But they would have to be real, specific, proposals — the kind your opponents can use in attack ads.

Now, in reality, negotiations that are worth anything aren’t going to be televised. But perhaps a first round could be. And maybe a bit of public pressure really could push Republicans to stop coasting on the public opinion contradiction between love of spending cuts in general with love of virtually every specific government program. At least, it could educate more people (and more reporters!) that the GOP has been doing that for a long time. 

And…well, it’s a silly gimmick. But sometimes, that’s probably the best next move.