Today’s prize goes to National Journal’s Ron Fournier for the most perfect false equivalency of the morning:
Shame on Republicans for a stubborn unwillingness to seriously consider tax increases.
Shame on Democrats for keeping a closed mind to significant benefit cuts.
And shame on President Obama for standing idly by as Washington failed again to get the country’s fiscal house in order.
I’m a big fan of National Journal, so I’m hoping Fournier will take my objection to this seriously. Let’s look at the facts.
Fact set number one: The main Dem offers contained roughly equal levels of spending cuts and tax increases. The GOP offers did not contain roughly equal levels of spending cuts and tax increases. Rather, both contained significantly more in spending cuts than in new revenues — and one of them also included another massive concession from Dems, i.e., lowering the tax rates of top earners. In short: One party offered solutions involving roughly equivalent concessions from both sides, and the other didn’t.
Both main Dem proposals offered between $400 billion and $500 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts, including benefits cuts. Indeed, these cuts were so deep that they antagonized traditional Democratic allies. Fournier says these weren’t sufficient. Why not? Even if you argue they weren’t, why doesn’t the simple fact that the Dem offer contained equivalent concessions for both sides — while the GOP one didn’t — alone negate the equal apportionment of “shame” here?
Fact set number two: Republicans made lowering tax rates on the wealthy a condition for accepting any deal. As the Times reported, when Dems rejected Senator Pat Toomey’s offer, which would have lowered the rate of top earners to 28 percent, GOP aides concluded no deal could be reached.
Does Fournier really believe that if Obama had engaged in the process, this would have somehow stopped being a fundamental sticking point? As Kevin Drum put it, any pundit hitting Obama for not getting involved needs to explain what Obama could have done to change the core GOP position. Also: Even Republicans said at the outset that Obama should refrain from weighing in, because it would make a deal harder, not easier.
I want to make a broader point that goes to the heart of the dispute over how we cover this stuff. I maintain that the above represents a set of facts that can be consulted, in the quest to judge who’s most to blame for the supercommittee’s failure, and to determine which side is really willing to compromise. We can determine in factual terms whether each party’s offers involved roughly equivalent concessions by both sides. We can determine in factual terms whether the desire for the wealthy to pay less in taxes towards deficit reduction was the top priority of Republicans, and whether this was the central sticking point that made agreement impossible. This sort of line of questioning is often dismissed as mere opinion. But ultimately, what we’re really talking about here is the quest to establish factual reality, which is what journalists are supposed to be doing.