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Lindsey Graham struggles with fiscal basics

There was an exchange yesterday between Fox News' Chris Wallace and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) that was hard to watch, but nevertheless illustrative of a larger point.

WALLACE: You know that if we go into the sequester the president is going to hammer Republicans. The White House has already put out a list of all the things, terrible things that will happen if a sequester kicks in: 70,000 children losing Head Start, 2,100 fewer food inspectors, small business will lose $900 million in loan guarantees. And, you know, Senator, the president is going to say your party is forcing this to protect tax cuts for the wealthy.

GRAHAM: Well, all I can say is the Commander-In-Chief thought -- came up with the idea of sequestration, destroying the military and putting a lot of good programs at risk. Here's my belief: let's take "Obamacare" and put it on the table.... If you want to look at ways to find $1.2 trillion in savings over the next decade, let's look at "Obamacare". Let's don't destroy the military and just cut blindly across the board.

Now, the first point is obviously ridiculous. Republicans are heavily invested in the idea that automatic sequestration cuts were something President Obama "came up with," but reality shows otherwise. It's trivia anyway -- what matters is resolving the threat, not imagining who created it -- but what Graham chooses to overlook is every relevant detail: the sequester was part of the ransom paid to the Republican Party when it took the nation's full faith and credit hostage for the first time in American history. GOP leaders, at time, bragged that this policy was their idea, not Obama's.

If Graham doesn't like the sequester -- and he clearly seems to agree that it's a serious problem -- he can support scrapping the policy or coming up with a bipartisan alternative. For now, he's opposed to both of those options, making his whining yesterday rather unpersuasive.

But Graham turning his focus to the Affordable Care Act serves as a reminder of just how unserious he is about public policy.

Let's be clear about what the South Carolinian is saying here. About $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts are set to kick in, doing real harm to the economy, the military, and the country overall. Lawmakers could cancel or delay the policy, though Republicans aren't interested in either of these options, or they can come up with a bipartisan alternative that replaces the sequester with something else.

With 11 days to go, Lindsey Graham's contribution to the discussion, in effect, is, "I know! Let's take health care benefits away from millions of Americans!"

It's worth noting that even the most reflexive partisans should realize their anti-"Obamacare" preoccupation is quickly becoming laughable. Republican governors are implementing the law; House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently conceded the Affordable Care Act is "the law of the land"; public support for repeal is evaporating; and when folks like Orrin Hatch and Michele Bachmann unveil repeal bills, even most GOP lawmakers ignore them.

Graham, in other words, really needs to get over it.

But more important from a substantive perspective is that the South Carolina Republican still doesn't understand the basics of the fiscal debate. The point of looking for a sequester alternative is to find a new policy on debt-reduction. If policymakers scrapped the Affordable Care Act, it would make the debt worse, not better.

In other words, Graham thinks Washington can produce smaller deficits by producing larger deficits. That doesn't make any sense.