Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grand Bargain Passage Strategy


I know Obamabots aren't going to want to hear this, but I suspect that Obama and Boehner see pretty much eye to eye on the contours of their "Grand Bargain" and are more concerned with the strategy of getting it through Congress than they are about working out the fine points. According to Peter King (R-NY) and Doc Hastings (R-WA), two of Boehner's closest congressional cronies, the House Leadership is telling Members not to make any plans for the holidays. A convincing dramatization of the terrorism the elites are foisting on us under the guise of a "fiscal cliff" requires all kinds of late December histrionics to look reasonably authentic.

Meanwhile, Boehner, who wants to wait until he's safely reelected Speaker before giving his caucus the bad news, has been accusing the president of "slow walking" the process, a blatant projection of exactly what he's doing himself, as Paul Ryan-crony Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) pointed out this week. Did Ryan tell that to Van Hollen? There's been high level chattering that Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan are undermining Boehner. And yesterday's NY Times was wondering aloud if Boehner can muster enough Republicans behind him to pass it without having to make even more compromises-- i.e.- less pain for working families and seniors-- with Nancy Pelosi, who will "rent" him votes for a price.
On Monday, the president presented a new offer and on Tuesday, Mr. Boehner answered back as he and the president conferred by telephone. That talk came two days after a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office without staff members present-- their first solo meeting since those failed talks toward a “grand bargain” in July 2011. While neither provided details, one person familiar with the White House proposal said Mr. Obama had reduced his call for $1.6 trillion in additional revenues from the wealthy over the first 10 years to $1.4 trillion, still $600 billion higher than the Republicans’ position. And another said the president also proposed that the two sides commit to working on overhauling the corporate tax code next year.

Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Boehner made a rare statement from the floor of the House admonishing the president to offer more, and more specific, spending cuts.

In an interview with ABC News, Mr. Obama said that if Republicans relent on their resistance to tax rates going up on the wealthy, “then we are prepared to do some tough things on the spending side.”

“Taxes are going to go up one way or another,” he said, “and I think the key is that taxes go up on high-end individuals.”

The direct discussions followed a week in which preliminary negotiations among top-level staff advisers had not gone well, according to people in both parties, with time running out before a year-end deadline for action.

The president has no choice but to rely on Mr. Boehner, who leads Republicans’ only center of power. “It’s not like there’s another path; he’s the speaker of the House,” said a senior administration official, who would not comment further about the relations between Mr. Obama and Mr. Boehner, which were strained by last year’s failure.

But Democrats in the White House and Congress also say that they believe Mr. Boehner does hold greater sway among Republican colleagues than he did in the summer of 2011, his first year as speaker, given the chastening experience for junior Republicans of both last year’s budget fights and the 2012 election results.

Contributing to that sense of Mr. Boehner’s greater empowerment was the letter he sent to Mr. Obama last week, in which he acknowledged Republicans’ willingness to raise new revenues as part of a deal: It was also signed by the House Republican leadership team, including Mr. Boehner’s occasional intraparty rival, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the majority leader, and Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the House Budget Committee chairman and former vice-presidential nominee who has a following among antitax conservatives.

...This week the president and speaker took direct control after staff-level talks bogged down late last week, largely over what one person close to the White House called “the big 2”: Republicans’ demands that Mr. Obama agree both to a slow increase in the eligibility age for Medicare, to 67 from 65, and to a new formula that would reduce cost-of living increases for Social Security.

Mr. Obama has balked; he opposes both ideas and faces heavy pressure from unions and other progressive groups to reject them. But his stance is undercut by the fact that he had tentatively agreed to both proposals in last year’s secret talks, in return for Mr. Boehner’s support for raising taxes on high-income earners.

The president and his aides have told Mr. Boehner and his team that both proposals would be a hard sell to other Democrats, people close to the talks say.
Oh, the drama! Both sides are sill playing to their partisan bases, keeping the excitement revved up before they reveal the actual deal, raising taxes on the rich a pittance-- my guess, knowing that Obama is the worst negotiator in the history of the presidency, even less than what it would be if they just did nothing and let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire December 31-- in return for gutting Medicaid and starting the process of unravelling Medicare by raising the eligibility age. Believe it or not, Republicans are starting to drool over the idea of replacing Medicare with a horrible idea hatched by the Heritage Foundation called, yes, ObamaCare. Digby turned me on to right-wing healthcare "expert" and Romney advisor Avik Roy who was a guest on the Up With Chris Hayes show last week:
"I have to respond to this interesting hyperbole about Medicare death sentence. If you raise the retirement age for Medicare, we have the Affordable Care Act as the backstop. Everybody under 400% poverty level is still covered with the affordable care act in place. So what we are really talking about is means testing Medicare by raising the retirement age. People who are upper income, above 400% of the poverty level won't be subsidized if they're younger retirees. It's where entitlement reform should go, to expand it into the retiree population."
Damn; I pity the poor teabaggers who will soon be suffering from severe whiplash. But let me leave this discussion with a tiny glimmer of hope-- believe it or not, the Senate. They can kill this and 15 liberals have already said that if Obama agrees to help Boehner shred the social safety net they'll vote against the Deal. On top of these 15, there are also a number of teabaggers like Ron Johnson (R-WI) who have said they will vote against anything that raises taxes on the rich. Here are the champions we're counting on:
Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
Jeff Merkley (D-OR)
Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
Al Franken (D-MN)
Jack Reed (D-RI)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Daniel Akaka (D-HI)
Ben Cardin (D-MD)
Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Jay Rockefeller (D-WV)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)
These are the ones already on board. I'm guessing Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Dan Inouye (D-HI) will want to do the right thing and stick up for working families as well. Greg Sargent covered the Senate possibilities in his column yesterday.
At a recent private caucus meeting among Senate Democrats, someone brought up the persistent media rumors that President Obama might accept raising the Medicare eligibility age as part of a fiscal cliff deal. There was an outpouring of outrage from the Senate’s liberal members, who bluntly told the room that this should be a nonstarter among Dems.

So recounts Senator Jeff Merkley in an interview with me-- underscoring again just how deep the opposition will run among Democrats if a hike in the Medicare age is incorporated into a deal.

“The overwhelming sense was that this would be absolutely unacceptable,” Merkley told me. Of the President, Merkley added: “I can’t imagine he is seriously considering it.”

...“I do a lot of town halls,” Merkley said. “I can’t tell you how many times someone will come up to me and say, ‘Here’s the thing. I’m 61, and I have these major health problems. I don’t have insurance. I’m praying I make it to 65.’ The idea that we’re going to take all these folks with diseases setting in as they get older, and move them two years later? Absolutely unacceptable.”

“We should be lowering the age, not raising it,” Merkley said. Speaking of the president, Merkley added: “I hope he hears long and loud from us who are connected to the real lives of working people.”
Blue America helped elect Jeff Merkley in 2008 and he's never disappointed us in anything. He's running again in 2014 and he and Al Franken are Blue America's only two Senate endorsements so far. Want to encourage them?

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At 12:24 AM, Blogger John said...

Fifteen down, thirty six to go!!! Anyone else spilling over with optimism?

Or twenty six to go, if they decide to filibuster. Ha, ha.

I assume if 41 brave souls do exist and decided to filibuster, all of a sudden Reid would force them to stand and actually MAKE a filibuster.

This as opposed to the innumerable times in the recent past that he has wet his pants when the GOP simply announces its intention to filibuster and has accepted that as sufficient to kill the bill in question.

John Puma


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