Two weeks from today, deep, automatic sequestration cuts will kick in, doing real damage to the nation's economy, military, and public needs. Both Democrats and Republicans say they want to avoid that fate, but only one side seems to be doing anything about the threat.
This week, House Republican leaders, including Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said they would do literally nothing to resolve the problem until Senate Democrats acted. It was a bizarre posture to take -- the House GOP freely admits it doesn't want to do any work at all to clean up the mess Republican helped make.
The whole point of the sequester, which GOP leaders have admitted to championing, was to get both sides to the negotiating table, but this week, House Republicans said they refuse to participate. So, as is often the case, Senate Democrats accepted the role of grown-ups, and yesterday unveiled a balanced plan to replace the dangerous policy.
The plan pinpoints $120 billion of savings, split evenly between cuts and revenues, that would replace the sequestration-designated cuts to defense and domestic spending until the end of December. [...]
As designed, the plan would raise $55 billion in revenues over the next 10 months while slashing roughly $55 billion in spending during that same time period. The remaining $10 billion would come from interest savings.
The revenue side is made up of three main policies. The first is the so-called "Buffett Rule," which would set a minimum 30 percent tax rate on income above $1 million.... The rest of the revenue would come from eliminating businesses' ability to take deductions by relocating facilities overseas, and from a provision closing the tar sands loophole.
This is, in theory, the kind of plan that could enjoy broad support. If the sequester is going to be replaced with an alternative -- as opposed to, say, just turning the damn thing off -- the Democratic approach spreads the pain around. It includes significant spending cuts, but doesn't raise income tax rates and avoids deep cuts to social insurance programs like Medicare and Social Security. The White House quickly announced its support for the proposed compromise.
So, good news, right? With two weeks to go, the White House and Senate majority have put a credible compromise on the table that would eliminate a threat both sides say they want to avoid. Problem solved? Of course not.
As quickly as the administration said it liked the Senate Democratic compromise, congressional Republicans rejected it. They don't have an alternative solution, of course, but according to the House Speaker, they do have a target in mind: "The sequester will be in effect until there are cuts and reforms that put us on a path to balance the budget in the next 10 years."
It's important for the political world to appreciate just how insane this is. First, according to Republicans, any agreement has to give the GOP 100% of what it wants, without exception. Second, the same people who turned a large surplus into a massive deficit are now making demands that Democrats clean up the Republican mess in the way Republicans want.
And third, as Greg Sargent explained, the new rule that Boehner just arbitrarily made up -- no deficit in 10 years -- is truly laughable.
Getting rid of the deficit in 10 years with no new revenues would require extraordinarily deep cuts to the federal government. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently ran the numbers and concluded it would require across the board cuts totaling anywhere from one-sixth to one-third of the government, depending on whether defense and/or entitlements are included. Boehner is saying that it's either this or the sequester remains in effect. [...]
So here are the politics of this in a nutshell. Democrats want the sequester to be averted through a mix of roughly equivalent concessions by both sides. But Republicans are so eager to avoid raising even a penny of new revenues from the rich and corporations that they would sooner present this as a choice between the sequester -- which they themselves say will gut defense and tank the economy -- and downsizing the government by anywhere from one sixth to one third.
And when the sequester begins in two weeks, as now seems unavoidable, the usual suspects in the media establishment will be outraged that "both sides" allowed this to happen by refusing to compromise. That one side offered a balanced deal while the other side demanded a 100%/0% alternative will be deemed irrelevant.