Down the Rabbit Hole

Jon Chait points us to this remarkable imaginary conversation between Barack Obama and Paul Ryan as transcribed by the Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus:

Barack: The current system can’t go on. I wouldn’t say this publicly, but my party’s wrong to pretend it can. Still, your approach goes way too far. Seniors would get help to buy private insurance but would pay a lot more than they do now…. You’re forced to make deep cuts in Medicare because you won’t agree to raise taxes and that’s the only other way to get to balance.

Paul: Look, I could maybe support higher taxes as part of an overall deal. I just can’t admit that. On costs, my plan gives extra subsidies to the poorest, sickest and oldest seniors. If those aren’t big enough, we could talk. But it makes sense for wealthier seniors to pay more. And what about the general concept? Could you accept the idea if the subsidy grew at a rate higher than regular inflation?

This is just mind boggling. Like Ross Douthat’s response to me a few weeks ago about Republicans and taxes, I hardly know how to respond. I feel like one of us is living in that Spock-with-a-beard alternate universe, and I’m beginning to wonder which one of us it is.

In Marcus’s case, she imagines that Paul Ryan — Paul Ryan! — is secretly willing to support higher taxes. That’s crazy. There’s absolutely nothing in his past history to suggest that he’s anything but an unalterable, true-believing hardliner on taxes. In Douthat’s case, he wrote that I was underestimating how many Republican lawmakers might accept a modestly tax-increasing budget compromise and suggested that Republican opposition to tax increases was roughly similar to Democratic opposition to spending cuts. Seriously? Of course Dems don’t want to cut spending as much as Republicans do, and of course there are some Democrats who won’t support domestic spending cuts of any kind. Still, there are loads of centrist Democratic senators who are quite plainly willing to talk seriously about reining in spending, but at a guess, no more than three or four Republican senators who would be willing to support a tax hike of even a dime. The situation in he House is similar. Is this really even a debatable point? Hell, virtually the entire Democratic caucus voted for $500 billion in Medicare cuts in 2009 even though they knew they’d get shellacked for it by Republicans in 2010. And they did.

I just don’t get it. The Republican jihad against taxes is hardly a secret, and Republican obduracy against even the slightest tax increase is perhaps the firmest, longest held, and most widely known economic policy held by either party. Nothing else even comes close. So how can smart, experienced journalists and commentators continue to somehow believe that it’s all a big show and Democrats just need to demonstrate a bit of flexibility in order to win Republican votes for a tax increase? How can they be seduced by Paul Ryan’s mild tone into believing that he’s just modestly opposed to tax increases and could be easily reasoned with if only President Obama would invite him over for a beer?

What’s going on here? Is Spock clean shaven in my universe or theirs?

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