Congressional Republicans return from their Sequestration Vacation

Aviva Shen at Think Progress notices that while “Congressional Republicans are refusing to consider new tax revenue as part of a deal [while others are insisting] that the across-the-board sequester cuts should be allowed to kick in… some Republican governors [like Jan Brewer (Teaparty-AZ)] are bracing for the devastating impact these cuts will have on their states.” Shen reviews the facts of how we arrived here:

House Republicans’ refusal to consider tax increases echoes the 2011 debt ceiling fight that created the sequester deal in the first place. That fight led to a downgrade of US credit for the first time in history and billions of wasted taxpayer dollars. The sequester could have even farther reaching consequences; the $85 billion in cuts will slow economic growth and gut essential programs in areas including education, food safety, disaster relief, and law enforcement — while doing little to actually reduce the deficit. For truly balanced deficit reduction, a budget deal would need to be comprised mostly of tax revenue.

Ezra Klein reminds the media — and the GOP — of where the goalposts should be on this issue and WHO moved them:

… The sequester was a punt. The point was to give both sides a face-saving way to raise the debt ceiling even though the tax issue was stopping them from agreeing to a deficit deal. The hope was that sometime between the day the sequester was signed into law (Aug. 2, 2011) and the day it was set to go into effect (Jan. 1, 2013), something would…change.

There were two candidates to drive that change. The first and least likely was the supercommittee. If they came to a deal that both sides accepted, they could replace the sequester. They failed.

The second was the 2012 election. If Republicans won, then that would pretty much settle it: No tax increases. If President Obama won, then that, too, would pretty much settle it: The American people would’ve voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes.

The American people voted for the guy who wants to cut the deficit by increasing taxes.

In fact, they went even further than that. They also voted for a Senate that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes. And then they voted for a House that would cut the deficit by increasing taxes, though due to the quirks of congressional districts, they didn’t get one.

Here in DC, we can get a bit buried in Beltway minutia. The ongoing blame game over who concocted the sequester is an excellent example. But it’s worth remembering that the goalposts in American politics aren’t set in backroom deals between politicians. They’re set in elections. And in the 2012 election, the American people were very clear on where they wanted the goalposts moved to.

As President Obama explained in his weekly address: this disaster can be averted by closing loopholes, doing selective “smart” cutting and entitlement reform in a way that doesn’t stall the economic recovery and that boosts job creation:

“After all, as we learned in the 1990s, nothing shrinks the deficit faster than a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs. That has to be our driving focus. That has to be our North Star. Making America a magnet for good jobs.”

If Republicans really cared about deficit reduction (and if a Republican were president right now), they’d be taking a completely different approach to this discussion. They’d be talking about a balanced approach (Ronald Reagan raised taxes numerous times). They wouldn’t be trying to drown anything in a bathtub (GWB increased the federal workforce to offset slower private job growth) — nor would they even consider slowing a just-recovering economy with these drastic cuts. The simple fact of the matter is that the GOP doesn’t care about the deficit. It’s a political ploy they use to talk about what they always talk about when a Democrat is president: spending (programs they dislike), big government (drown it!), and taxes (they must not be raised! ever!).

Paul Krugman points out the obvious:

To say what should be obvious: Republicans don’t care about the deficit. They care about exploiting the deficit to pursue their goal of dismantling the social insurance system. They want a fiscal crisis; they need it; they’re enjoying it. I mean, how is “starve the beast” supposed to work? Precisely by creating a fiscal crisis, giving you an excuse to slash Social Security and Medicare.

Kevin Drum agrees:

Republicans haven’t cared about the deficit for decades. They got a bit worried about it when Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut didn’t pay for itself the way he promised, and this prompted them to reluctantly pass Reagan’s 1982 tax increase. But they very quickly sent that 1982 bill down the memory hole, pretending to this day that Saint Ronnie never increased taxes. Since then, they’ve cared about deficits only when Democrats were in office.

As it happens, I don’t think there’s anything nefarious about this. Republicans don’t like Democratic spending priorities, and yelling about the deficit is a very effective way of objecting to all of them without having to waste time arguing about each one separately. [...] That said, it’s still worth keeping the truth in mind. What frustrates me isn’t so much that Republicans do this—that’s just politics—but that the press so routinely lets them get away with it.

I disagree with Drum. I think there’s a lot of things that could be considered “nefarious” about what tea party extremists in Congress would like to do to our country. Especially when it comes down to wanting millions to suffer for 1) politics and 2) to preserve the wealth of a few.

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