There is No Possible Sequester Deal to be Made

| Tue Feb. 19, 2013 9:44 PM EST

I've successfully avoided writing about the sequester over the last few days, but I'm curious: does anyone seriously think a deal is even possible? I don't quite see how. Here are the possibilities:

  • Eliminate the sequester entirely. Zero chance of Republicans agreeing to this.
  • Ditch the defense cuts, replace them with domestic cuts plus a tax increase. Zero chance of Republicans agreeing to this.
  • Ditch the defense cuts, double the domestic cuts. Zero chance of Democrats agreeing to this.
  • Ditch the defense cuts, keep the domestic cuts. Approximately zero chance of Democrats agreeing to this.
  • Kick the can down the road with some kind of small-ball deal. Possible, I guess.

Am I leaving out some possible permutation here? I can just barely imagine a small-ball deal, maybe one that's 100 percent spending cuts, maybe one that includes some kind of semi-hidden revenue increase. But that's about it. Every other possibility is substantially worse than the status quo to either Democrats or Republicans.

But for some reason we keep talking as if a deal is possible. So what am I missing here? As far as I can tell, neither side is genuinely trying to negotiate. They're just trying to make sure the other side gets the blame when sequestration kicks in, as it inevitably will.

So who's winning that game? A friend emails to say that this paragraph from Gloria Borger, a reliable barometer of DC conventional wisdom, suggests that Republicans are:

The president proposes what he calls a "balanced" approach: closing tax loopholes on the rich and budget cuts. It's something he knows Republicans will never go for. They raised taxes six weeks ago, and they're not going to do it again now. They already gave at the office. And Republicans also say, with some merit, that taxes were never meant to be a part of the discussion of across-the-board cuts. It's about spending.

Sure enough, Borger unquestioningly accepts the Republican framing that (a) further tax increases are an absurdity and (b) the debt ceiling deal wasn't about reducing the deficit, it was about reducing spending. If this view is common deep in the lizard brains of the DC press corps, Obama has his work cut out for him.

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