Since last month’s election, Republican leaders in Congress have been demanding that President Obama come up with a detailed plan to cut the deficit and solve the upcoming fiscal deadlines without feeling any need to prepare a plan of their own. On Monday, under pressure from the White House, Republicans finally released their opening position in the negotiations — a remarkably shallow one that demonstrated a lack of seriousness in negotiations, or farsightedness in policy.
In a letter signed by Speaker John Boehner and six other House leaders, Republicans didn’t even bother to assemble their own package of spending cuts and revenue increases; they did a simple copy and paste of a few proposals made extemporaneously at a hearing last year by Erskine Bowles, the Democratic co-chairman of a deficit reduction committee.
The proposal, which Mr. Bowles quickly disavowed on Monday, purports to raise $800 billion in revenue over a decade by ending deductions and loopholes, while allowing the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich to continue. It would cut $1.2 trillion in spending, half of which would come from Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs, including an increase in the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Another $600 billion would be cut from other unspecified spending.
Which programs would be cut? The letter doesn’t say, and Republicans don’t seem to care, as long as they blindly achieve their goal of cutting a big chunk out of government. The offer was a transparent attempt to appear responsive to Mr. Obama’s detailed proposal from last week, without doing any actual math or hard work.
If Mr. Boehner had used a calculator, for example, he would have discovered it is impossible to produce $800 billion in revenue from eliminating deductions without severely curtailing the deduction for charitable donations, which is vital to the nonprofit sector. Doing so without limiting the charitable deduction would inevitably raise taxes on the middle class, as nonpartisan analysts have concluded, and would have a much greater effect on the upper middle class than on the very rich.
The only way to produce the necessary revenue is to combine some limits on deductions with an end to the Bush tax cuts on the rich, and Mr. Obama, fortunately, has been adamant he will not consider any plan that does not do so. The Boehner letter, by contrast, actually advocates lowering rates, suggesting that Republicans are still clinging to the notion, rejected by voters, that was put forward by Mitt Romney.
Raising the Medicare eligibility age hurts working-class Americans unable to work to 67, and it is likely to increase health care costs. But when you are simply tossing out random ideas, as Republicans seem to be doing, those kinds of long-term implications don’t matter. Monday’s offer may simply be intended to show the most conservative Republicans that their leaders fought before the compromises to come. For everyone else, they show a party unwilling to approach the bargaining with responsibility.
The letter doesn’t say, and Republicans don’t seem to care, as long as they blindly achieve their goal of cutting a big chunk out of government. The offer was a transparent attempt to appear responsive to Mr. Obama’s detailed proposal from last week, without doing any actual math or hard work.",,,