As Katie and Erika have been keeping you abreast of all the latest debt talk developments on this sweltering weekend, I've been wondering who's to blame for last night's dramatic collapse. Democrats, predictably, pronounced Boehner the villain. The DCCC sent out this rapid-response missive last night:
This is inexcusable. Earlier this evening, Republican Speaker John Boehner quit negotiations with President Obama, refusing to raise the debt ceiling to secure tax breaks for big oil companies and his billionaire jet-owning friends. It's now clearer than ever that Republicans won't say yes to anything and would rather see our economy fall into catastrophic default than offend Grover Norquist and the Tea Party fringe by asking billionaires to pay their fair share. Enough is enough. If Republicans would rather carry water for big oil companies and shadowy special interests than work on behalf of ordinary Americans, we are going to make sure their constituents know about it.
For just one paragraph, that's a lot of bogeymen. Shockingly, the truth may not be as simplistic as Democrats claim. Reuters' Jim Pethokoukis -- who's offered excellent coverage of this fight -- reports that the dreadful, bipartisan Gang of Six "framework" gave Obama cover to shift the goalposts toward much higher revenue. The new demands were more than Boehner could abide, and he said adios:
Here is the take of congressional GOP source to me:
We never had agreement on a revenue number. But the WH did demand more revenue post gang of 6 – a lot more revenue. Entitlements [changes included] Medicare raising age, significant savings, combining Medicare parts A and B, means testing. Also chain cpi on social security and additional savings. GOP proposed over 200 billion in medicaid savings, WH up to 120. But n agreement on$800 billion. But there would have been tax reform and 3 flat rates – broadened base, lower rates. WH wanted higher rates post gang.
Here is how I see it: Boehner says they had an agreement on $800 billion in revenue, but then Obama asked for $400 billion post Gang of Six report. The “goal posts” were moved. That extra $400 billion would come from higher tax rates. That is an absolute, no-go, red-zone issue for Republicans. Where would the original $800 billion have come from? First, extra revenue from more economic growth generated by tax reform efficiencies. Second, and this is a pretty good guess based on what Boehner said, better tax enforcement. Here is Boehner describing where the money came from ” … and a tax system that was more efficient in collecting the taxes that were due the federal government.”
Ed Morrissey suggests a great deal of blame can be laid at the feet of the Republican members of the Gang of Six, and I agree. Not only is their proposal absolutely unacceptable on a policy level, it emboldened Obama. He saw what a handful of GOP Senators were willing to concede in a separate set of private negotiations, and he upped his own ask. In short, the Republican 'Gangsters' undermined Boehner's negotiating position at a crucial moment. In fairness, though, there's strong evidence that Obama may have been desperately seeking an escape hatch. Why? Because Congressional Democrats were in open revolt over the details of the emerging deal, as outlined by Pethokoukis:
After emerging from a lunch meeting on Thursday with members of her party and Jack Lew, the White House budget director, Ms Mikulski said her colleagues were feeling “volcanic” about the prospect of a $3,000bn deal to cut deficits and raise the debt ceiling that did not include any higher taxes, adding that it was “like Mount Vesuvius” in the room. Facing a possible revolt from within Democratic ranks, White House officials immediately dismissed the notion that the president would strike any agreement with Republicans to implement significant spending cuts – including reform of treasured government programmes such as Medicare and Social Security – without garnering any new revenue in return.
We've heard a constant media drumbeat that it's the GOP rank-and-file who are being unreasonable by clinging to blind ideology in the face of an imminent debt crisis. This report indicates that Democrats' love affair with higher taxes is so torrid that they exploded like figurative volcanoes when they were read into the Boehner/Obama pact as it was taking shape. Obama then turned tail, marched back into negotiations with Boehner, and changed his demands. Who's fault is that? Democrats and much of the media (I repeat myself) seem to forget that the most recent election was decisively won by the party that promised to cut spending and hold the line on taxes. They also ignore the fact that the very same party has placed two solutions to this issue on the table, both of which have been hastily rejected by Democrats.
The negotiations continue. Good. This issue must be resolved, and soon. But we must not allow a narrative of "it's that awful, stubborn John Boehner's fault" to take hold, because it's not true. In fact, if the House complies with its Speaker's demand and passes another bill to raise the debt ceiling and prevent default by the end of the weekend, the lower chamber's Republican Majority will have introduced and past three specific legislative solutions to stave off partial default and downgrade. The grand total of specific plans from Senate Democrats and the White House: Zero. (Unless you count President Obama's horrendous February budget, which the Democratic Senate rejected unanimously).