From today’s NY Times report on the “civil war” in the GOP:
“You have to have a specific agenda,” said Jeff Bell, a policy director in the 1976 Reagan campaign, citing the supply-side tax cuts that were so in vogue with Republicans of that era. “That’s a missing element in today’s conservative revolt.”
This quote strikes me as a good insider assessment. Its substance should be taken into account by those who wish to make sense of Washington. In my observation, the lack of a positive agenda on entitlements is a problem shared by congressional GOP radicals like Cruz and Rand Paul, and by the slightly lesser radicals like Ryan and Rubio. And it could even afflict governors like Walker and Christie. The affliction is the difficulty of turning theoretical pronouncements against “entitlements” into specific legislation that can garner broad public support and harm the Democrats when they stand in the way.
Furthermore, interesting things happen when you talk to Tea Party supporters about their anti-government ideas. First, they prefer to talk abstractly. Second, when pressed, they prefer ineffectual, targeted spending cuts to things like “international aid” — a small fraction of the federal budget — rather than cuts to the behemoths, Social Security and Medicare.
Unless the GOP is totally bereft of intellectual capital, they have knowledge of this knowledge, and are well aware of what the public actually thinks about entitlements. It is safe to assume the GOP has enough intel to know it cannot be seen as sole author of cuts to popular entitlement programs. But, they still want the policy. So, the answer is, they need to bring Obama on board as co-author.
In sum, it is like this: Republicans are (rightly) afraid to be known as the sole instigators behind cuts to programs that help a lot of people, and that polls show are quite popular. So they need Obama. Obama, however, has so far refused to co-author entitlement cuts. Hence, the GOP manufactures crises trying to create enough leverage to coerce Obama into co-authoring entitlement cuts. In 2011, they used the debt-ceiling against Obama, trying to effect a “grand bargain.” Obama (rightly) gave in — the leverage at that time was against him, unlike it is now — but he gave in only on non-entitlement spending. These non-entitlement cuts became known as “sequestration.” As policy, on one hand these cuts are bad because they harm growth. On the other, the cuts include defense spending, which arguably should be cut given the last decade of overly militarized foreign policy.
Politically, the takeaway point is Obama did not give an inch on entitlement cuts, even coming off the disastrous 2010 midterms, and even though he was looking ahead to his re-election fight — meaning even when the leverage he had was at an all-time low.
Now comes word the GOP thinks they can trade the reversal of sequestration in return for Obama’s co-authorship on cuts to entitlement programs.
Under no circumstances should Obama even discuss the merits of such a deal.
If Republicans want to cut popular programs that are also good policy, Obama should make sure the Republicans get full credit for doing so. Obama should not give one inch on Social Security or Medicare. Make the GOP come out as sole authors. Indeed, it is a major flaw in GOP strategy that they have a domestic policy agenda they can only talk about theoretically for fear of backlash against any specifics. Obama should not send them a gift and lend his name to any specific entitlement cuts. No grand bargains.
And anyway, receiving the reversal of sequestration as the prize? Bullshit. Important elements in the GOP — namely, the war hawks — despise sequestration, as this tweet by Max Boot makes clear:
ICYMI Sequestration is not an achievement the GOP should be proud of. My take: http://t.co/BUucCMYcfF
— Max Boot (@MaxBoot) October 19, 2013