Here's the Best Argument Against a Grand Bargain

| Wed Mar. 20, 2013 5:12 PM EDT

Greg Sargent says Republicans look likely to try to ride out the sequester even if their supporters start to squawk. I agree. He also thinks that President Obama will keep pushing for a replacement that includes both tax hikes and entitlement cuts. I agree with that too. And finally, he believes that a progressive alternative—a deal that combines new revenues with spending cuts that don't hit entitlements—isn't going to happen. I agree again. So what comes next?

That means that at some point, liberals may well be faced with a choice — should they accept the grand bargain that includes Chained CPI and Medicare cuts, and join the push for that, or essentially declare the sequester a less awful alternative, and instead insist that we live with that?

....Senator Bernie Sanders and Dem Rep. Keith Ellison, staunch foes of a grand bargain that cuts entitlement benefits, [believe] that it’s premature to get drawn into this choice. And I hope they’re right that it needn’t come down to that choice. It seems to me, though, that progressives who oppose such a grand bargain might at least start marshaling a policy argument for why the sequester is a preferable — or at least a less horrible — alternative.

As it happens, I'm not necessarily a staunch foe of every possible grand bargain. I can imagine some deals I'd support. However, I'll concede that at the moment it looks likely that any plausible deal is one that I'd oppose. So what's the argument against it, assuming it happens?

I'm not sure. But here's my take: we don't really need to worry about it. Partly this is because I don't think pressure on House Republicans will ever get strong enough that they feel like they have to make a deal that includes significant revenue increases. But it's also because, at a minimum, a deal will either need lots of Democratic support in the Senate plus a bit of Republican support, or it will need unanimous Republican support plus about 15 Democratic votes. I just can't conceive of any truly horrible deal that crosses that threshold. Could you get four or five centrist Dems to sign onto a horrible deal? Sure. But 15 or more? I don't see it. They don't call Social Security and Medicare the third rails of American politics for nothing.

Plus there's this: if it really does come down to a fight, policy arguments won't matter. Democrats already know the policy, because the policy is pretty simple: cutting money for the old and the sick is bad. The only thing that will matter is plain and simple pressure from interest groups that Democrats care about. And the argument is, "If you vote for this, you will never get another dollar from us." If Democrats are convinced this is a serious threat, they'll back off.