Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bad Cop, Awful Cop

The Republicans are coming after America's great intergenerational social contract. And except for Mitch McConnell, they're getting a little closer to admitting it. Committing himself while uncommitted, the Senate Minority Leader has said (on what may have been separate occasions)

Something must be done. And now is the time to do it. Republicans are ready and willing. Where is the president? Suddenly, at the moment when we can actually do something about this, he's silent....

I applaud all of the discussions that are going on in the House and the Senate by well-meaning members," McConnell said....But without presidential leadership, nothing will happen. We will not get a result.

Others, though, are at least a little more explicit. Kentucky's Rand Paul, pointing to his awesome political courage, says "Most young people acknowledge that it's broken — it's broken so badly that the only way we fix it and the only way it can continue is we have to look at the eligibility. But so many people have said, 'Oh, we can't talk about entitlement; you'll be unelected; you'll be unelectable if you talk entitlement reform.'" Richard Shelby of Alabama claims "Social Security is now at the tipping point, the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency if we don't do something about it."

Tea party fave Marco Rubio of Florida threatens

I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid....

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor admits, incoherently,

50% of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? Listen, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.

Oklahoma's Tom Coburn adds

The fact is ... $2.8 trillion was stolen from Social Security," Coburn said. "The money was spent. It's broke. And we're going to have to fund $2.8 trillion over the next 20 years just to make the payments that we've got. I would think most people would think we ought to fix that.

Translation: we conservatives stole from Social Security, a lifeline for poor and middle class elderly Americans, in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. So now we have to cut Social Security. It is, as a Jewish mathematician might put, chutzpah to the nth power. Or, as Hillbilly explains it

Let's say you go to work and your boss picks up a baseball bat, beats one of your fellow employees unconscious and then fires the employee for being unconscious on the job.

Minority Leader McConnell has two powerful allies, one on his right and one on his left. These young (or, in the case of Coburn, not-young) bucks, he can tell President Obama, "are demanding I do something drastic; I'd like to be reasonable, but what can I do?" And the opposition party is doing its best to help him, if the Wall Street Journal can be believed:

The White House and Democratic lawmakers, with less than two weeks left to avoid a government shutdown, are assembling a proposal for roughly $20 billion in additional spending cuts that could soon be offered to Republicans, according to people close to the budget talks.

That would come on top of $10 billion in cuts that Congress has already enacted and would represent a deeper reduction than the Obama administration and Senate Democrats had offered previously in negotiations. But it isn't clear that would be enough to satisfy Republicans, who initially sought $61 billion in spending cuts and face pressure from tea-party activists not to compromise.

Steve Benen, referring to the GOP's original proposal of a $30 billion cut, argues

And yet, here we are in late March, and now Democrats are prepared to accept the exact same number used by Republican leaders, and it seems likely GOP lawmakers still won't think this is good enough. Indeed, rank-and-file Republicans balked at their own leadership's plan when $30 billion in cuts were put on the table, and it stands to reason the caucus won't be any more impressed now that a similar offer is presented by Dems.

But putting aside whether this is likely to work, the lesson I'd like Democrats to take from this is simple: you're not good at negotiating. Republicans approved a ridiculous proposal, pushing the extreme in one direction, knowing that negotiations would ensue. One need not be a game theorist to know those talks would go better if Dems had pushed in the opposite direction.

That way, when the two sides tried to meet "in the middle," that middle would be in a more favorable location.

But, no. The discussion boiled down to one side that wanted to cut a little, and one side that wanted to cut a lot.

Clearly, the GOP would like some of that decrease to be in what they are slick enough to refer to as "entitlements"- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Fortunately, an election is approaching and a cut in Social Security or even Medicare may not be tenable. Unfortunately, the numbers point to a Repub takeover of the Senate in 2012/2013 to work with a re-elected Democratic President who urges "tackling entitlements" (and yearns to be "transformative") or, worse yet, a GOP president.

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