The air is thick with mournful predictions that the impasse in Washington is so deep that going over the fiscal cliff may be inevitable. There will be a great deal of finger-pointing this week over who is to blame. But guess what: There is an actual set of facts here. They are central to understanding the current situation, and belong in every account of what is going wrong:
1) Democrats have offered a comprehensive proposal that meaningfully details the tax hikes they would like to see and contains substantial deficit reduction, but Republican leaders have not offered a comprehensive proposal that meaningfully details the spending cuts they would like to see. And what Republicans have proposed — such as it is — doesn’t contain nearly as much in deficit reduction as the Dem plan does.
2) Many experts believe that substantial deficit reduction simply requires Republicans to drop their opposition to raising tax rates on the rich.
Those are just facts. The White House has proposed a deficit reduction package that contains $1.6 trillion in new revenues and around $600 billion in spending cuts, much of them to Medicare. By contrast, the most specific spending cut proposal we’ve seen from Republicans came from Mitch McConnell on Friday: Higher Medicare premiums on the wealthy; raising the eligibility age; slower cost-of-living increases for Social Security; new revenues but no hike in tax rates. The revenue side of McConnell’s proposal is too lacking in detail to calculate how much it would bring in; meanwhile, Paul Krugman’s back of the envelope calculations suggest his spending cuts would amount to all of $300 billion.
As always, there simply isn’t any equivalence here. Even if you think the Democratic offer is too light on spending cuts, the basic fact remains that Dems have made a substantial proposal, while Republicans haven’t. Dems have meaningfully detailed what they want, and Republicans haven’t. Republicans keep telling us that Obama must show “leadership” by detailing the spending cuts the White House is willing to accept, and that the Dem proposals are not “serious” because they have yet to do this. But how are we supposed to know what will count as “serious” spending cuts, if Republicans won’t detail what they want? It’s doubly curious that Republicans refuse to do this, given that they keep saying the 2012 election gave them a mandate for cutting spending.
Look, this is just a sucker’s game. What Republicans really mean when they demand that Obama “lead” is that they want him to propose bigger concessions up front so Republicans can denounce them as insufficient — which they would do no matter what he proposed — pulling the debate further and further in their direction.
Meanwhile, even as the White House has willingly proposed Medicare cuts, Republicans still refuse to give ground on raising tax rates for the wealthy. (This basic imbalance is not changed, even if you think the White House’s proposed Medicare cuts are insufficient.) So here’s a simple question for any pundit who is tempted to blame both sides equally for the impasse: Can you show us how substantial deficit reduction can be achieved without higher tax rates on the rich? If not, then both sides are not equally to blame.
(Update: Post edited slightly from original.)
* Why Obama is drawing hard line over tax hikes: It isn’t complicated. Here’s the answer, buried in this morning’s big New York Times analysis of Obama’s “unyielding” stance:
In his first four years in office, Mr. Obama has repeatedly offered what he considered compromises on stimulus spending, health care and deficit reduction to Republicans, who either rejected them as inadequate or pocketed them and insisted on more. Republicans argued that Mr. Obama never made serious efforts at compromise and instead lectured them about what they ought to want rather than listening to what they did want.
Can we stop pretending this basic history never happened?
* Why Republicans refuse to detail the spending cuts they want: Paul Krugman gets to the heart of it: It’s very hard to come up with spending cuts that would seriously reduce the deficit without cutting deeply into very popular programs, which is why Republicans want Dems to go first. The problem, as always, is that cutting spending is popular in the abstract but not when the talk turns to specifics. And this time around, things are different: Because Democrats are the ones with the leverage, they don’t have to acquiesce to the GOP demand that they propose spending cuts first.
* Dems should not get hoodwinked into proposing cuts first: E.J. Dionne makes that argument in his column this morning, and this captures the Republican strategy perfectly:
They seem to hope a deal will be born by way of immaculate conception, with Obama taking ownership of all the hard stuff while they innocently look on.
As noted above, this is what Republicans really mean when they call on Obama to “lead.” Get it?
* Obama must act on climate change: Mother Jones is absolutely right to push this question, and it will be central to whether Obama’s second term is a success:
Public Opinion Has Moved on Climate Change. Will Obama Follow — or Fiddle?
* No, Republicans are not “breaking” with Norquist: I’ve been saying that repeatedly, and now Peter Wallsten reports it out in depressing detail: Republicans simply aren’t breaking with Norquist in any meaningful sense.
Again: It does not matter what Republicans say about their alleged willingness to break with Norquist. What matters in the end is what Republicans are willing to vote for. And no, giving ground on raising revenue via ending loopholes and deductions — not raising rates — is not a major concession.
* What will big business groups do? This is a major unknown worth keeping an eye on. Obama is giving a speech this week to the Business Roundtable, which represents big business, in which he will lay out his case for his approach to a fiscal cliff deal. So will business groups privately (or publicly) tell Republicans that the time has come to accept the inevitable — a fiscal deal that contains meaningful deficit reduction will simply have to include a hike on tax rates for the rich?
* No, raising taxes on rich will not hit “half” of small businesses: Republicans such as John Boehner keep repeating this claim, but as Glenn Kessler notes, what’s really going on here is that it will hit half of the income made by small businesses — which is hauled in by all of three percent of them!
And Kessler adds this crucial point: Boehner’s claim is widely being echoed in the media as fact.
* And Fox’s Chris Wallace defends Susan Rice: An interesting nugget on Fox News Sunday. Chris Wallace, in a discussion about why John McCain and Lindsey Graham were not won over by Susan Rice in their private meeting, says: “Rice is a pretty steady hand and I’m not saying that McCain and Graham aren’t, but she is somebody who plays it pretty much down the middle.”
Of course, there’s always the remote possiblity that McCain and Graham went into that meeting with every intention not to be won over by Rice.