Sunday, March 03, 2013

Sequester Disinformation

Syndicated columnist and Fox News contributor Charles Krauthammer, who has a sincere and extraordinary distaste for Barack Obama, gets it wrong at least three times.  Then I stopped counting.

Krauthammer is incensed that President Obama, he charges, is spreading panic over the automatic spending cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.  He argues

The problem with sequestration, of course, is that the cuts are across the board and do not allow money to move between accounts. It’s dumb because it doesn’t discriminate.

Fine. Then change the law. That’s why we have a Congress. Discriminate. Prioritize. That’s why we have budgets. Except that the Democratic Senate hasn’t passed one in four years. And the White House, which proposed the sequester in the first place, had 18 months to establish rational priorities among accounts — and did nothing.

Congress does not pass a "budget."  Most years, it passes a budget resolution, which the President neither signs nor vetoes because it is not a law but a mere blueprint for the appropriation process.
It is conceivable that Krauthammer doesn't understand this, likely most of his readers don't, and as certain as snow in Buffalo in winter that the vast majority of his viewers on GOP TV don't.

But he probably realizes the disingenuousness of claiming that the President's proposal that spending cuts (which, thus far, have far outstripped revenue increases) be matched by tax increases "demonstrates that, for Obama, this is not about deficit reduction, which interests him not at all. The purpose is purely political: to complete his Election Day victory by breaking the Republican opposition."

Apathy toward deficit reduction is a Republican game, not a Democratic one, as demonstrated by statements of long-time GOP consultant Mike Murphy, who is lionized as a "moderate."  Ezra Klein explains that Murphy on February 13 wrote

in Time that “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.” The only problem? Obama has said all these words, as John Harwood of the New York Times quickly pointed out:
harwood tweet
Murphy responded by suggesting that sure, Obama has called for more means-testing in Medicare, but he’s not put chained CPI — CCPI, if you’re hamstrung by Twitter’s 140-character limit — on the board:
murphy tweet 1Obama never refused chained CPI as part of a cliff deal. In fact, he did the opposite: He endorsed it as part of a cliff deal, and he’s kept endorsing it, as his sequestration plan clearly says, since the cliff deal fell apart. This was quickly pointed out to Murphy on Twitter, at which point, he promptly proved Chait’s thesis correct:
Then Murphy retweeted this:
So let’s back up. Murphy’s initial view was that to unlock GOP votes for a budget deal, Obama just needed to endorse chained CPI and more means-testing in Medicare. Then it was pointed out that Obama has endorsed means-testing in Medicare, so Murphy wondered why he didn’t endorse chained CPI as part of a deal. Then it was pointed out that Obama did endorse chained CPI, at which point Murphy called chained CPI “a gimmick,” and said Obama had to endorse raising the Medicare age, drop his demands for more revenue as part of a deal and earn back the GOP’s trust.
Recall what Chait said would happen if the Republican legislator in my column was forced to react to the fact that Obama has endorsed chained CPI: “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.” Check, check, and check.
Which is all to say that there’s no deal here. A few tweets later, Murphy gave his bottom-line view, which is that if Obama wants a deal, he needs to drop all of his demands and just agree to what the GOP wants to do:
Technically, Obama did move first on spending. Over the course of 2011, Obama signed into law a set of bills that cut about $1.8 trillion from discretionary spending, and that included no tax increases at all. One of those bills, the Budget Control Act, also gave us the sequester, so you could argue they included closer to $3 trillion in spending cuts — all, again, without a single tax increase. It didn’t seem to build much trust.

Krauthammer doesn't stop with distorting the budgetary process and with charging that  the triangulating President Obama is unconcerned about the deficit. He slams the White House for allegedly failing to "establish rational priorities among accounts," then a few paragraphs later with an "intent to deliberately make the most painful and socially disruptive cuts possible (say, oh, releasing illegal immigrants from detention."
While harmlessly splitting infinitives, Krauthammer pulls a nifty sleight-of-hand.  He blames President Obama for not establishing priorities, then, once the latter does, whines about the priorities he has set.
This could be a metaphor for GOP propaganda the past 35 years on taxes and spending.  Cut income taxes, they've claimed, and revenues magically increase.  Now, it's cut the budget and programs and personnel magically remain unharmed.  The aphorism "there is no such thing as a free lunch" has been turned on its head in Repubthink.  It seems there is, indeed, such a thing as a free lunch.

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