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The Morning Plum: The one question every GOP lawmaker should be asked

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Credit where credit is due: NBC’s David Gregory did a nice job pinning down John Boehner’s evasions and falsehoods during a lengthy interview on Meet the Press yesterday.  Gregory called out Boehner for falsely claiming Dems have no plan to reduce the deficit. And Gregory didn’t let Boehner get away with suggesting Dems haven’t gotten serious about spending cuts, confronting the Speaker with the fact that they agreed to deep cuts in 2011.

But there’s still one question that I’d like to see posed to Boehner and every GOP lawmaker. It’s this: Is there any ratio of entitlement cuts to new revenues that Republicans could support, and if so, what is that ratio?

Look, the bottom line is very simple. The sequester is now set to take hold, and it could mean a lot of pain and economic damage. If that happens, there will be a ferocious political battle over who is to blame. But Dems are never going to agree to replace the sequester with only spending cuts, as Republicans want, for the simple reason that for Dems, no cuts-only package is preferable to the sequester. So we’re not averting the sequester without a compromise that includes new revenues.

Meanwhile, over the longer term, whatever happens with the sequester, it won’t give Republicans the spending cuts they themselves say they want — to entitlements. Now, the notion that Republicans are the party that’s serious about reforming entitlements — after they ran two subsequent campaigns attacking Obama and Dems for cutting Medicare — is pretty silly. But let’s accept for the sake of argument that the GOP is really serious about entitlement reform. Paul Ryan is set to introduce some sort of new version of his Medicare voucher plan, which means another debate about entitlements is up next.

The good news for Republicans is that Obama and Dems have already offered Republicans entitlement cuts — through Chained CPI on Social Security and means testing on Medicare. But only in exchange for revenues. Dems are not going to agree to avert the sequester without new revenues. They are not going to agree to serious entitlement cuts without new revenues. This general position is surely acceptable to most commentators (anyone who thinks we should carry out the last round of deficit reduction with only cuts should say so). If Republicans are willing to accept revenues, they can get at least some of what they want on the sequester and on entitlements.

So the only question that matters is whether Republicans are willing to accept Yes for an answer. If Republicans confirm that they’re not willing to accept any cuts-to-revenues ratio under any circumstances, then it should be obvious even to the most determinedly blinkered centrist commentator who’s really to blame for this crisis. Dems have answered this question — Yes, they are willing to trade entitlement cuts for new revenues. They’ve even spelled out what specific ratio they’re offering. Even if you think the Dem plan is insufficient, it remains true that no common ground is possible until both sides are willing to make this trade. Even if you think the Dem plan is insufficient, it remains true that Dems are willing to make this basic trade. We can haggle about what that trade should look like — but that haggling cannot happen until both sides are willing to make this trade in the first place. Surely the centrists will concede that basic point.

So reporters should ask Republicans — is there any ratio of entitlement cuts to revenues you can accept, and if so, what is it? How about three to one? Or four to one? Just ask them.

* Sequestration will hit poor the hardest: The New York Times has a deep and sobering look at the ways in which the sequester cuts will inflict the most pain on the poor and vulnerable, because in many cases, agencies will simply have to deny them the services they need. At the same time, while the cuts could cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, they are not expected to put much of a dent in corporate profits, perhaps exacerbating a story we’ve already been seeing — corporations gaining an unusually large share of the recovery’s gains.

The sequester is moving us in exactly the wrong direction on multiple fronts. (Links fixed.)

* Dems ratchet up pressure on sequestration: The Democratic National Committee is out with a new Web video that features ordinary Americans fretting about the job loss and cuts to needed services the sequestration cuts will inflict on their communities. The video juxtaposes that with Republicans cavalierly claiming the cuts are too small to do any damage to the economy — a sign of the direction Dem messaging will take when the battle over the cuts heats up this month.

To be clear, it’s just as wrong to claim Republicans alone are responsible for creating the sequester as it is to blame Obama alone for it. But it remains objectively true that only one party — the GOP — is unwilling to compromise to avert it.

* Boehner blames Dems for failing to break GOP filibuster: Steve Benen has another key moment from David Gregory’s interview with Boehner: The Speaker is actually citing the fact that Senate Dems have not been able to pass their sequester-replacement plan as proof that they have no plan. Of course, the plan actually did get majority support in the Senate — the reason it didn’t pass was that Republicans filibustered it.

* White House confident GOP will cave? Senior White House economic adviser Gene Sperling is expressing confidence that Republicans will cave and accept the need for bipartisan compromise on revenues and cuts once the pain of the sequester begins. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s heartening to see Dems proceeding from the assumption that the politics of this battle are in their favor — another sign of just how much things have changed since 2011.

* Yes, Obama’s gun proposals may pass: The Los Angeles Times reports on the issue in the right way: While the assault weapons ban may never make it through Congress, there is a real chance that the expanded background checks and the anti-trafficking measures could make it out of the Senate and even to the House. And as unlikely as it seems, there is at least the possibility that the House GOP leadership will allow votes on them — and if so, keep an eye on those suburban Republicans.

Have I mentioned that if those two pieces do become law, that would be a real achievement — with or without any assault ban? Well, it would.

* Obama steps up pace on judicial nominations: The Post reports that Obama plans to dramatically increases the pace of judicial nominations in his second term, which will create another area of confrontation with Republicans. This is welcome news — Obama’s failure on this front was a blot on his first term. And as Jonathan Bernstein has detailed, it’s absolutely necessary that Obama take steps to reshape the judiciary — after conservatives have done so much to mold it in their image — if his legislative achievements are to endure.

* Obama to name strong pick to head EPA: As expected, the President today will nominate Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency. As an EPA official, she was responsible for pushing some of the more contentious items that put the agency in the right’s crosshairs during Obama’s first term, so this perhaps signals more ambitious action to come.

Environmentalists are still eager to know how aggressively Obama will use executive actions to act on climate change — in particular, it’s still unclear whether the administration will push a crackdown on emissions from existing power plants.

* And the blame-it-on-both-sides pundits just won’t stop: Paul Krugman nails it on what I’ve been calling the “centrist dodge”:

The centrist ideal — deficit reduction via a mix of revenue increases and benefits cuts — is what Obama is already offering; in fact, his proposals have been to the right of Bowles-Simpson. Yet the centrist pundits keep demanding that Obama offer what he has already offered, and condemn both sides equally (or even place most of the blame on Obama) for the failure to reach a deal. Again, informing them of their error wouldn’t help; their whole shtick is about blaming both sides, and they will always invent some reason why Obama just isn’t doing it right.

That last line is key. Whether it’s “Obama isn’t leveling with the public about our long term problems,” or “Obama hasn’t moved quite far enough to the middle ground,” or “Obama must do more to lead Republicans out of their intransigence,” reasons will always be invented to avoid admitting the GOP is to blame for this crisis.

What else?