The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Morning Plum: Didn’t we just have an election?

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Imagine that Mitt Romney had decisively defeated Obama in the 2012 election on a platform of tax cuts for the rich and deep cuts to government as the only way to reduce the deficit, dramatically repudiating the President’s call for higher taxes on the wealthy, continued implementation of the biggest expansion of the safety net in 60 years, and more government spending to boost the economy.

Then imagine that Democrats in the Senate (the only part of government they controlled) responded to this by proposing to dramatically expand health care and stimulus spending and pay down the deficit only with 100 percent tax hikes — and not a single penny more in spending cuts — and on top of that, then suggested President Romney has failed to sincerely try to find common ground with them.

This is pretty much what Republicans did on the Sunday shows yesterday — in reverse. On Fox News Sunday, Paul Ryan confirmed that his budget will repeal Obamacare (even as he counts in his budget the $700 billion in Obamacare Medicare cuts that Republicans campaigned against in 2012). The Ryan budget will supposedly wipe out the deficit in 10 years. This likely will mean even deeper cuts than the ones in his previous budget, which represented the GOP’s fiscal agenda writ large and broadly speaking was rejected by voters last November.

At the same time, Republicans fanned out across the Sunday shows to claim that they’re glad Obama has tried to reach out to them, but only time will tell whether Obama will make real offers to them that prove his outreach is genuine. Paul Ryan — the same Paul Ryan who again called for repealing Obamacare yesterday — said this: “The proof will be in the coming weeks as to whether or not it is a real sincere outreach to find common ground.” Meanwhile, there were no signs GOP leaders are willing to give an inch on new revenues, even though they are being offered more in entitlement cuts in exchange for them.

You can read article after article about the current standoff and not be informed of the basic outlines of the situation. The impasse is broadly presented as only a disagreement over tax hikes — as if the only obstacle to a deal is that Republicans don’t want to raise taxes, and Democrats do. In fact, Democrats have offered Republicans a fair amount of what they say they want (entitlement cuts) and have asked for something in return (new revenues). Republicans have responded by not only continuing to insist that the fiscal battle be resolved 100 percent their way, but also by doubling down on the demand for repeal of Obama’s signature domestic initiative. Even if you think Dems have not gone far enough with their offer of entitlement cuts, this general picture is still a broadly accurate portrayal of what’s happening. And news accounts just don’t explain it with any clarity.

After decisively losing an election that was all about whether we should invest in and expand the safety net, Republicans are broadening their demand that we roll it back dramatically. This behavior is simply nothing remotely like anything Dems are doing. It’s odd that commentators who insist that bipartisan compromise is the Holy Grail aren’t a bit more worked up about this.

* White House sees difficult path to a budget deal: The New York Times reports that some Republican Senators are privately expressing an openness to a big deal that involves new revenues. But the White House is aware that the path to any compromise remains steep:

“Hopefully there’s an opportunity to work things out through regular order in the House and Senate,” said Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “How likely is that? I can’t say very likely — there are strong structural forces in the Republican Party working against it. But if you try and fail you still have an opportunity to build bonds of trust that could be helpful on other issues.”

I continue to maintain that the politics of the sequester are unpredictable, and that when the bite of spending cuts really sinks in you could see a situation where Republicans are suddenly more willing to entertain new revenues as a way out. Of course, the White House wooing of Republicans is also designed to make this more likely by portraying Obama as the one reaching out for compromise — perhaps making the GOP’s non-compromising position harder to sustain.

* Dems second guessing Obama’s negotiating approach: Also in the above link, there’s a rising chorus among Congressional Democrats that the White House erred in not negotiating a big deal at the end of last year, when Obama had leverage (thanks to the expiring Bush tax cuts) that he no longer has. The root of the miscalculation, though, was that folks wrongly anticipated that defense cuts would be a sufficient disincentive to letting the sequester go forward — a miscalculation that’s perhaps understandable.

* Paul Ryan’s hilarious flip flopping: Sahil Kapur does justice to the new Ryan budget:

In other words, Ryan and Republican leaders started off opposing the ACA’s Medicare cuts, then turned around and twice passed budgets that kept them, then campaigned against those cuts in the 2012 election, and are now embracing them again.

Deeply, fundamentally unserious. People should say so.

* Real movement on immigration reform: The Los Angeles Times reports that the bipartisan group of eight Senators working on immigration reform are close to an agreement on the most contentious question: How exactly to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million here illegally. Current calculations are that the path will take more than 10 years.

The very fact that a group of Senators from both parties is in agreement on general principles outlining a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants is itself remarkable, and a testament to how the GOP’s brush with demographic doom has shifted the political ground on the issue.

* The Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop lives on and on: Paul Krugman continues trying to loosen the grip of deficit mania on our policy-making, pointing out that the deficit is actually falling and that there is no coherent reason for making deficit reduction the primary focus of the conversation right now, amid a fragile recovery.

The deficit is indeed dwindling, and the case for making the deficit a central policy concern, which was never very strong given low borrowing costs and high unemployment, has now completely vanished.

And no, this does not mean, as Joe Scarborough and others keep falsely implying, that longer-term fiscal issues aren’t a problem; but as Krugman notes, these are the result of rising health spending and the aging population, and are not a reason to remain stuck in the wrong conversation at a time of mass unemployment.

* Number of the day: Speaking of being stuck in the wrong conversation, the Wall Street Journal calculates that if we hadn’t had the government job cuts Republicans say are good for the economy, the unemployment rate would be 7.1 percent, not 7.7 percent. More austerity right away!

* And can Ashley Judd oust Mitch McConnell? Buzzfeed says there’s a template for her succeeding: Like other celebrities-turned-officials such as Al Franken and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Judd needs to start early, keep events small, focus intensely on local concerns, and work her butt off.

What else?