Greg Sargent is doing yeoman's work trying to convince me that some kind of deal to replace the sequester is possible. You can read his full argument here, but I think this is a fair summary:
- Republicans really, really want to replace the sequester. They don't like the defense cuts; they don't like the prospect of taking blame for the economic damage the sequester does; and they want more entitlement cuts.
- Democrats will never, ever agree to a deal that's pure entitlement cuts. They'll insist on some new revenue as well, and they're not going to cave on this. Republicans know this.
- So if Republicans want to end the sequester and make progress on entitlement cuts, they're going to have to agree to some tax increases.
I've already gotten myself into trouble over this issue, so I'm going to keep my response restrained. But basically it's this: Republicans know all this, and they don't care. There have long been a few Republican senators who are willing to entertain tax increases as part of a bigger deal, so there's a bare chance that something could pass the Senate. But the House? Not. Gonna. Happen. Even if John Boehner, in his heart of hearts, wants to make a deal like this—something I'm skeptical about—his caucus won't let him.
Here's where I think Greg's argument, and other similar ones, go wrong:
- Republicans don't actually hate the sequester all that much. It's a trillion dollars in spending cuts! What's not to like?
- I don't think public pressure to repeal the sequester is going to be that strong, especially in red districts. Republicans can ride it out for the next few months, and the specific cuts will all be renegotiated in the next budget cycle.
- I don't think Republicans really care that much about entitlement reforms. Sure, they're in favor of them, sort of, as long as there's bipartisan cover, but it's mostly just big talk. They're keenly aware of the political danger of cutting Social Security and Medicare, especially since seniors are part of their core base. Besides, Obama is offering fairly modest entitlement cuts and they're mostly not the kind conservatives are interested in.
- In any case, who cares? Even if they hate the sequester; even if public pressure is strong; even if they do want entitlement reforms—even if all those things are true, they come in a distant 83rd place to Republican hostility toward tax increases. It doesn't matter if the tax increases come from raising rates or limiting deductions, either. They're opposed to them no matter what.
Call me simplistic if you want, but I see no evidence that Republicans are ready to accept tax increases under any circumstances where they have a choice. Maybe someday they will. Certainly logic and basic arithmetic suggest that someday they'll have to accept the need for higher revenues. But remember what Keynes supposedly said? "The market can stay irrational longer than you can remain solvent." The same is true for Republicans. Someday is still a long way away.
That said, Greg's argument is easy to understand, and so is mine. You can all decide for yourself which one seems more likely. In a few months, we'll all know the answer.