You’ll be startled to hear that John Boehner has declared that Obama’s budget offer of Chained CPI, Medicare cuts that include means testing, and other spending cuts is not good enough:
“If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes,” Boehner said in a statement. “That’s no way to lead and move the country forward.”
The curious thing about this is that Republicans previously said they wanted these things as proof that Obama is “serious” about cutting spending. In late December, a Boehner aide told Bloomberg News that the Speaker wanted Chained CPI more than other entitlement cuts, such as raising the Medicare eligibility age, as the two were negotiation over a possible cuts-for-revenues swap to avert the fiscal cliff.
And in late November, Mitch McConnell explicitly told the Wall Street Journal that if Obama offered entitlement changes such as Chained CPI and Medicare means testing, Republicans would consider new revenue. He actually said this: “those are the kinds of things that would get Republicans interested in new revenue.”
Apparently none of this remains operative. And so we have a moment of clarity in this debate once again: There is literally nothing that Obama can offer Republicans — not even things they themselves have asked for — that would induce them to agree to a compromise on new revenues.
And of course, whatever you think of Chained CPI — I oppose it and think it is terrible policy — providing this moment of clarity is one of the reasons Obama offered these cuts in his new budget. The idea is to demonstrate once again that one party is willing to compromise to replace the sequester and reduce the deficit, and other isn’t. As a clarifying moment, this rivals what we saw earlier this year, when Republican leaders finally admitted openly that there was no ratio of new spending cuts to new revenues that would be acceptable to them. Today’s GOP response to the Obama budget, should, in theory at least, bring this clarity into even sharper focus.
Indeed, as Jonathan Chait notes, commentators who tend to blame both sides evenly or even fault Obama for failing to “lead” Republicans out of their intransigence are taking notice of this new offer and seeing it as a genuine effort to compromise. One hopes there will be more commentary like this, and as the sequester kicks in, such Beltway chatter could seep into local news coverage around the country and start conveying clearly to voters that Republicans are to blame for whatever sequester pain they’re feeling.
Even if that were to happen, of course, that wouldn’t necessarily force Republicans back to the table. As Kevin Drum points out, Republicans ultimately have more of an incentive to weather the sequester then to reach a deal that includes new revenues, which would deprive them of their ability to rail about spending and force a greater focus wedge issues — such as immigration — that don’t favor them. For what it’s worth, the White House really does believe a deal is still possible — one that involves picking off Republicans who, unlike the leadership, have already expressed an openness to new revenues, such as John McCain and Lindsey Graham.
But even if a deal isn’t possible, that leaves the White House with little alternative other than to extract as much political pain for the ongoing sequester and from continued GOP intransigence as possible, with an eye towards the 2014 midterms. That’s what today’s exercise is all about.
UPDATE: In fairness, Republicans can argue that subsequent to their demand for Chained CPI and Medicare means testing, Obama got new revenues in the fiscal cliff deal. But Democrats agreed to twice as much in spending cuts in 2011, and at any rate, the point is that Republicans described the entitlement cuts — which they’re now dismissing — as serious concessions they wanted from Dems.