Wednesday, December 12, 2012

No, Boehner, you tell us what popular programs you'd like to cut

By Michael J.W. Stickings

As usual, more ridiculousness from Republicans on the "fiscal cliff":

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said on Tuesday that he was still waiting on the White House to detail what spending cuts President Obama would be willing to make in a potential deal to avert the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of the year.

"Where are the President's spending cuts?" Boehner said in speech on the House floor.

Talk about negotiating from a position of weakness. This is just bullshit posturing. As Greg Sargent notes, "Dems have already agreed to well over $1 trillion in spending cuts in 2011 -- cuts Boehner himself said were significant at the time. By contrast, Republicans have not agreed to a penny in new rates."

Two things are going on:

1) As Sargent suggests, "the idea is to try to blame the White House and Dems for the failure to reach a deal. But polls continue to show that Republicans are losing this PR battle badly."

2) "As for the demand that the White House go first in detailing its spending cuts, this is an almost laughably transparent ruse. As I keep noting, if Dems propose more in detailed spending cuts, Republicans will simply dismiss them as unserious, no matter what Dems offer -- pulling the talks further and further in their direction."

So basically, "Boehner will wait until enough Republicans come out and call for allowing a vote on extending just the middle class tax cuts -- enough to allow him to capitulate and claim he had no other choice. He can tell conservatives he fought until the end and that he's adopting the best possible course of action for the party."

In other words, he knows the president will win, at least insofar as not caving in to Republicans completely and getting some of what he wants, including more revenue, is a win. (It would actually be a good deal for the Republicans, as they could go back to the still-historically-low Clinton-era tax rates while forcing Democrats to agree to entitlement program cuts, putting the social safety net in play for further cuts down the road.

But there's something else, too. Boehner knows -- surely, he must -- that Republican positions on both taxes and spending are hugely unpopular. So he knows, for example, that he'll have to agree to higher tax rates for the rich, even just the expiry of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.

And he also knows that while spending cuts may be popular, or at least generally accepted, in the abstract, specific programs are generally extremely popular and supported by powerful special-interest groups. This is why Republicans like to talk in the abstract, focusing only on the details when there's a Democratic constituency to target.

Take public broadcasting, for example. First, it accounts for a tiny fraction of the federal budget. Second, it's supported overwhelmingly by liberals and progressives who would never vote Republican anyway. And third, it gets the Republican base all frothy. It's the same with programs for the poor and foreign aid. But it's why they can't be quite as explicit when it comes to cuts to Medicare (where they use lies to try to scare the elderly into voting for them, suggesting it's Democrats who want cuts even though they're the ones pushing vouchers) and Social Security (which they want to privatize, at least partially). These are hugely popular programs and key components of the social fabric.

So is it any wonder Boehner wants Obama to go first (even though he has already)? He doesn't want to be on the record calling for such cuts, whereas if the president is on the record there may be some votes down the road when Republicans deny they ever went along with any deal and heap all the shit they can find on Democrats.

Yes, they're that shameless. But with no other way out, it's hardly surprising that Boehner is playing this silly game.

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