Obama Does Indeed Have a Proposal to Avert the Sequester


It’s fascinating to watch the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Brooks show. Today brings a sighting of Mr. Brooks, explaining why politicians of both parties have decided they secretly love the sequester after all:

Democrats get to do the P.C. Shimmy….Under the Permanent Campaign Shimmy, the president identifies a problem. Then he declines to come up with a proposal to address the problem. Then he comes up with a vague-but-politically-convenient concept that doesn’t address the problem (let’s raise taxes on the rich). Then he goes around the country blasting the opposition for not having as politically popular a concept. Then he returns to Washington and congratulates himself for being the only serious and substantive person in town.

Sequestration allows the White House to do this all over again. The president hasn’t actually come up with a proposal to avert sequestration, let alone one that is politically plausible.

He does have a vague and politically convenient concept. (Tax increases on the rich!). He does have a chance to lead the country into a budget showdown with furloughed workers and general mayhem, for which people will primarily blame Republicans. And he does have the chance to achieve the same thing he has achieved so frequently over the past two years, political success and legislative mediocrity.

If Brooks doesn’t like Obama’s proposal, that’s fine. But Obama certainly has one. It includes specific cuts to entitlements, including the adoption of chained CPI for Social Security and $400 billion in various cuts to healthcare spending, along with further cuts to mandatory programs as well as to both defense and domestic discretionary programs. Altogether, it clocks in at $1.1 trillion in spending cuts and $700 billion in revenue increases, mostly gained from limiting tax deductions for high-end earners. The proposal is here. Today, just hours before Brooks wrote his column, the White House put up a blog post specifically saying that this proposal is “still on the table.”

So to recap: President Obama does have a proposal. It’s extremely specific. It includes cuts to entitlements. And by all measures, its roughly 2:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases is pretty popular with the public.

Brooks is right about one thing, though: it’s not politically plausible. But that has nothing to do with either the reasonableness of the plan or with Obama’s willingness to cut a deal. It’s solely because of Republicans’ flat refusal to tolerate any deficit reduction plan that includes even a dime in additional revenue. Unless you believe that any proposal which doesn’t pander to this intransigence is inherently unserious—and I’m not sure why you would—it’s unclear to me how this can be laid at Obama’s feet.

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