It’s not hard to figure out what Obama is telling these Senators: He’s telling them what his actual deficit reduction plan contains — a mix of real entitlement cuts and new revenues.
If you want to understand what this is really about, go back to Ezra Klein’s interview with an unnamed GOP Senator, in which the lawmaker professed himself surprised to hear that Obama had offered Chained CPI on Social Security, along with other real entitlement cuts, in exchange for new revenues via the closing of loopholes enjoyed by the wealthy and corporations.
In short, Obama will tell all these Senators that he’s offering them what they want, i.e., serious cuts in retirement programs, in exchange for less in new revenues, and that this is actually a very good deal for them.
And the truth is, there may be a few GOP lawmakers who are willing to accept such an exchange. Lindsey Graham, for instance, recently said he’s open to supporting $600 billion in new revenues in exchange for unspecified entitlements cuts. John McCain has made similar noises. The White House effort seems designed to drive a wedge between the GOP leadership — which won’t agree to a penny more in new revenues, ever, no matter what — and any GOP lawmakers who might be open to a trade. The effort is also about sending a message to the public that Obama is at least trying to offer Republicans a compromise.
Mitch McConnell just announced that the President will join Senate Republicans at their Thursday lunch next week; and all these meetings will get a ton of media attention. So here’s what I’m hoping: That all of this focuses attention on the core question of whether there is any ratio of serious entitlement cuts to new revenues that is acceptable to enough individual Republican lawmakers to make a deal possible.
Republicans have worked very hard to obscure the true nature of the differences between the parties over how to repair our fiscal problems. This debate is crying out for more clarity and I don’t know of any other way to clarify these differences than with that question. So hopefully it will be asked.
* Both parties play by a different sent of rules: Politico has a big story today citing Dems who are worried that the White House has botched its sequester strategy by hyping its impact, perhaps creating a “cry wolf” effect. As I noted here yesterday, it’s true that the White House has had to retract false sequester claims. But John Boehner and Republicans have also been called out by fact checkers for lying about the sequester, and have simply doubled down on their lies — yet another indication of the basic imbalance between both sides here.
* What do polls tell us about the sequester? Republicans are waving around a new WaPo/ABC News poll finding broad support for the five percent sequester cut, but what this really confirms is that the public always supports the general idea of spending cuts. Things suddenly change when you bring up specific government programs. Also, the poll doesn’t offer respondents the option of choosing a mix between new revenues and cuts — a position that has majority support in other polls — which means it doesn’t test the basic dispute at the center of the crisis.
* Tom Coburn trying to kill gun reform? HuffPo reports that Tom Coburn is on the verge of pulling out of Senate bipartisan talks on the proposal to expand background checks. Given Coburn’s continued objection to any kind of record keeping on sales — which would not create the fictional national gun registry the “gun rights” brigade has invented — it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he’s just trying to kill the chances of any compromise. It is not impossible that this could pass the Senate without Coburn, but his exit will make things significantly more difficult.
* Republicans angry over canceled White House tours: Yesterday the Obama administration sparked sharp criticism from House Republicans for canceling White House tours due to the sequester, prompting an excellent point from Jason Linkins:
Good to see that Republicans finally recognize that spending cuts are indeed damaging!
* Dems roll out new sequester Web site: The DNC has set up a new Web site, GOPSequester.com, a one-stop shop for tweets, news stories and other things documenting the impact of the sequester. Implying the GOP alone is responsible for the sequester is no different from claiming (as Republicans do) that Obama alone is responsible for it. Both parties voted for it — both parties are to blame for its existence (though the GOP is far more responsible for the failure to compromise to avert it).
Within the GOP, the great revelation of the sequester has been how powerless the Pentagon defenders have been – and how popular the Tea Party vision of a radically scaled back government, Department of Defense included, has become. Add in the GOP’s absolute resistance to any further revenue increases in the wake of January’s fiscal cliff deal and you can see why House Speaker John Boehner ended up concluding that the sequester was the most palatable option on the table. It’s not like any deal he could have struck with the White House would have had a chance of passing muster with his fellow Republicans. Given all of this, it’s hard to see how Obama and Democrats will get their wish of a cancelled sequester anytime soon.
I’d add that another reason the sequester has suddenly become so popular among Republican lawmakers is that it allows them to say they’re cutting spending while avoiding proposing specific cuts to replace it. The question is whether the pain of the sequester’s specific cuts will force the GOP back to the table.