Sorry about light posting; I have a nasty head cold and just want to nap now. But here’s a post to tide you over for awhile.
The White House and Republicans in Congress can’t negotiate so much as an order for pizza. So the sequestration kicked in on March 1, and there seems to be no movement in Washington toward cancelling it before it does all kinds of economic mischief. Both the White House and congressional Republicans seem confident that their side is holding the winning political hand in this mess.
Jonathan Chait, Ezra Klein, and others are documenting that what’s going on here is way more than a failure to communicate. Republicans seem to be operating in a complete vacuum of information about what the President is proposing. Ezra provides an example:
My column this weekend is about the almost comically poor lines of communication between the White House and the Hill. The opening anecdote was drawn from a background briefing I attended with a respected Republican legislator who thought it would be a gamechanger for President Obama to say he’d be open to chained CPI — a policy that cuts Social Security benefits — as part of a budget deal.
The only problem? Obama has said he’s open to chained CPI as part of a budget deal. And this isn’t one of those times where the admission was in private, and we’re going off of news reports. It’s right there on his Web site. It’s literally in bold type. But key GOP legislators have no idea Obama’s made that concession.
…if Obama could get hold of Klein’s mystery legislator and inform him of his budget offer, it almost certainly wouldn’t make a difference. He would come up with something – the cuts aren’t real, or the taxes are awful, or they can’t trust Obama to carry them out, or something.
Ezra provides the real-world example of Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who wrote in Time that the sequestration impasse would melt like snow if only the President would make some simple concessions. “…six magic words can unlock the door to the votes inside the Republican fortress: Some beneficiaries pay more and chained CPI, budgetary code for slightly lowering benefit increases over time.”
And, of course, the President has already said those words and put those issues on the table, must to the distress of most progressies. In a series of Tweets Ezra posted, we see Murphy going from denial the President made those concessions, to saying, well, yeah, means testing, but he rejected chained CPI. When informed the President never rejected chained CPI, and in fact has expressed support for it, Murphy moved the goalposts and brushed off chained CPI as a “small beans gimmick” that Republicans really don’t care about. What Republicans really want is to raise the Medicare eligibility age and, oh, yes, no tax increases. And the President needs to “earn back their trust.”
The bottom line on American budgetary politics right now is that Republicans won’t agree to further tax increases and so there’s no deal to be had. This is not a controversial perspective in D.C.: It’s what Hill Republicans have told me, it’s what the White House has told me, it what Hill Democrats have told me. The various camps disagree on whether Republicans are right to refuse a deal that includes further tax increases, but they all agree that that’s the key fact holding up a compromise to replace the sequester.
But it’s unpopular for Republicans to simply say they won’t agree to any compromise and there’s no deal to be had — particularly since taxing the wealthy is more popular than cutting entitlements, and so their position is less popular than Obama’s. That’s made it important for Republicans to prove that it’s the president who is somehow holding up a deal.
This had led to a lot of Republicans fanning out to explain what the president should be offering if he was serious about making a deal. Then, when it turns out that the president did offer those items, there’s more furious hand-waving about how no, actually, this is what the president needs to offer to make a deal. Then, when it turns out he’s offered most of that, too, the hand-waving stops and the truth comes out: Republicans won’t make a deal that includes further taxes, they just want to get the White House to implement their agenda in return for nothing. Luckily for them, most of the time, the conversation doesn’t get that far, and the initial comments that the president needs to “get serious” on entitlements is met with sage nods.
So, no, what we’ve got here is not a failure to communicate. It’s willful, premeditated pig-headed ignorance.