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Short-term memory loss grips Washington

ABC News' George Stephanopoulos devoted a good chunk of "This Week" to discussed automatic sequestration cuts yesterday, and asked Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) for his prediction. The Republican congressman said President Obama came up with the sequester -- a claim that simply isn't true -- before saying his caucus is "prepared to negotiate on redistributing the cuts."

It led to this exchange:

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you're saying all cuts. Republicans are accepting absolutely no revenues?

COLE: No. Look, absolutely none. The president's accepted no spending cuts back in the fiscal cliff deal 45 days ago, so you get all -- no spending cuts back then. Then you're going to get no revenue now.

Around the same time, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who appears to spend more time on Sunday shows than in the Senate, said he's open to some revenues as a way to replace the sequester, but added, "[W]e have raised taxes. Why do we have to raise taxes again?"

Of course, by that logic, there's no reason not to ask, "We have cut spending. Why do we have to cut spending again?"

It's troubling that Republican policymakers have such short memories, and seem to have no idea what policies they voted for as recently as 2011. It's one of the more breathtaking examples of willful ignorance in recent memory.

But if we assume that lawmakers like Cole and McCain are sincere, and they literally can't remember the basics of recent budget policy, then it's probably worthwhile to set the record straight.

In 2011, Democrats and Republicans agreed to between $1.2 trillion and $1.5 trillion in spending cuts, depending on how one tallies the numbers. The cuts included no new revenue.

In 2012, Democrats and Republicans agreed to a deal that raised revenue by about $650 billion. The new revenue included no new cuts.

In 2013, Republicans are saying they remember what happened in 2012, but the 2011 policy has been blocked from memory.

This is crazy. Folks like Cole and McCain keep saying the 2012 deal didn't include spending cuts, so the sequester has to be 100% in the GOP's favor now, without exception. Why? Because Republicans haven't gotten spending cuts.

Except they already did get spending cuts. Indeed, the cuts from 2011 were twice as big as the revenue from 2012. [Update: Greg Sargent has some very helpful charts that help drive the point home.]

Even if the parties agreed to an entirely balanced agreement this month to replace the sequester -- roughly $600 billion in revenue and $600 billion in cuts -- Republicans would still be getting the much better end of the deal. The total for the entire package, negotiated in parts over the course of two years, would be over $4 trillion in debt reduction -- with a cuts-to-revenue ration of about six to one.

For that matter, Obama isn't calling for "tax increases"; he's calling for new revenue through closing tax loopholes and ending certain tax deductions. As recently as last month, Republican leaders said such a policy doesn't count as a "tax increase," though it's suddenly become outrageous now that the president agrees.

This really isn't that complicated. Either Republicans have a child's understanding of fiscal policy, the memory capacity of a goldfish, or they think Americans are fools. At this point, I'm no longer sure which, though I'm open to suggestions.