Republicans won’t take Obama’s “yes” for an answer on sequester

They’re at it again. No matter what President Obama offers in the sequester negotiations, the Republicans won’t take “yes” for an answer. And that’s excellent news for us.

To recap: We’re now in the middle of Part Cinq of Obama’s attempt to use anything at hand to kick-start the neoliberal dream of reducing FDR’s (and LBJ’s) signature social insurance programs — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. But according to Paul Krugman, the Republicans are having none of it (my emphasis):

Ezra Klein mans up and admits he was wrong. He had written a piece suggesting that if only Republicans knew how much Obama has been willing to offer, they might be willing to make a deal. Jonathan Chait set him straight, informing him that no matter what Obama put on the table, Republicans would find a way to say that it’s not enough. And sure enough, a Twitter exchange lets Klein watch that process in real time, as a top Republican consultant, confronted with evidence that Obama has already conceded what he said was all that was needed, keeps adding more demands.

So Klein admits that Republicans just don’t want to make a deal. Their objections to the deals on the table aren’t sincere; if convinced that Obama has met their demands, they just make more demands.

I think it’s important here to understand the broader implications.

That set of paragraphs is worth reading again. Ostensibly, it’s about Ezra Klein not getting what Krugman and others have observed all along — that Republicans are bargaining insincerely with Obama in his repeated attempts to get a Grand Bargain.

I agree with Krugman on this, and then we part company. Later in this piece Krugman assigns Obama a motive I can’t accept — that Obama’s goal is to take “the whole fight over the budget off the table” until the end of his term and move on to other stuff (like approving the Keystone Sludgepipe, perhaps?).

Regular readers know I’ve been saying for years that the Neoliberal project is “privatizing from the left” — selling public-private partnerships and Milton Friedman’s “free trade” from a faux-liberal perspective so that the billionaires of both parties can be served. Obama has been on board with neoliberalism and its goals since at least 2006. (I’ve written much about this; extra analysis here.)

Free trade and entitlement cuts are core neoliberal goals. Note that the next sovereignty-killing trade deal, TPP, has been described as “NAFTA on steroids” and stands in the on-deck circle for Obama. Obviously, cutting entitlement is in the batter’s box now, and has been since at least 2011.

All of which means, if Krugman is right, we may be sitting pretty, since we may have Republican partners working with us.

How to kill entitlement cuts: Kill the Sequester

The key to killing entitlement cuts this round is to kill the sequester. USA Today is reporting that top Obama economics adviser Gene Sperling is telling the press that “Obama would continue to seek alternatives to the $85 billion in cuts that he said will slash programs devoted to national defense, education, infrastructure and other things.”

Of course, Sperling is the guy who said cutting entitlements is “in the DNA” of the sequester. So we know Obama doesn’t want to kill the sequester; he wants to use it instead to frighten us into frightening both parties into finally passing his Grand “Bargain”. So the “alternative” to the dreaded Sequester won’t be to cancel it; we’ll have to do that for him.

How to kill the Sequester: Frighten Republicans (and others) into killing the deal

Key to killing the Sequester is to stiffen the spines of Republicans and Democrats who would otherwise have to vote for those cuts. And that’s where Krugman gives us hope. Again:

Republicans just don’t want to make a deal. Their objections to the deals on the table aren’t sincere; if convinced that Obama has met their demands, they just make more demands.

We can use this information. Click here to read the plan as it was proposed a few days ago. The only thing that’s changed is the introduction of the Cancel the Sequester Act on Friday (HR 900) by John Conyers, a member of the House Progressive Caucus. That changes the strategy on the Democratic side (we’re going to push for broad Democratic support).

But it changes nothing on the Republican side — it just gives them an easy out if they don’t want to buck House leadership. If Krugman is right, Republican, and especially Tea Party–branded, office-holders can be motivated by …

teabagger_with_hat▪ Raw hatred of Obama
▪ Hatred of taxes, ‘cuz “gummint”
▪ Fear of voter retribution, especially in “ungerrymandered” districts
▪ Desire to overturn the party’s “mainstream” leadership

… to vote down any tax-plus-cuts deal Obama offers. Our job is to stimulate their motivation with phone calls. My earlier calling script went something like this:

“Are you a man (woman) or a mouse? Where’s that Tea Party no-tax goodness you promised when you ran? And by the way, you’re dead to me if you vote for cuts to my Medicare or retirement money. See you in 2014.”

Now add in Krugman’s insight and say, “And how dare you give that man, that man I tell you, any kind of a victory at all.” You can emphasize the word “that” in that man any way you like. They’ll get the point.

You can then tell them that HR 900 is a safe haven to get the business concluded without blood, if they’re so inclined. Or just tell them that if an Obama–Boehner deal comes up for a vote, you’re expecting a No — ‘cuz, “keep them gummint hands off Social Security,” or something.

I’ll have that Republican calling list very soon, in a day or so. It’s loaded with Rs in the House who are vulnerable in 2014, either because they hold seats in districts where Obama did well, or because they have statewide or national ambitions and need to moderate their public act.

And never forget — a vote against Social Security and Medicare will be toxic to both parties. Both parties. Feel free to say so, loud and clear. The Republicans will get that point too.

[Updated slightly for clarity.]


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Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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