Monday, March 4, 2013

It's Not Obama's Fault

It's happening again. History is being forgotten so we can be sure to blame the president for the sequester. The boo birds are out in full force attempting to double down on the same trope David Brooks rolled out last week and which I panned.

They say the president hasn't done enough, hasn't compromised enough, hasn't led enough to get to a deal. Ezra Klein put up a great post over the weekend about Mike Murphy's circular tweets. First the problem was the president didn't put means-testing and chained CPI on the table, but when Mr. Murphy was informed Obama had, in fact, put those things on the table Mr. Murphy derided them as gimmicks that don't amount to much. Ezra does a great job of backing out the backwards logic of this line of reasoning and I was prepared to devote an entire blog post just to re-upping what Ezra said, but instead Bill Keller wrote a revisionist history version of the Obama administration that needs taken down.

First off, Keller says that Obamacare was "an overdue but expensive new entitlement " Mr. Keller wants to have his cake and eat it too. How can it be that a social program, modeled off an idea from the Heritage Foundation, first implemented by a Republican governor, and that Mr. Keller says is "overdue" be a miscalculation? Obamacare seeks to solve two issues, first, the ghastly number of uninsured in this country and, second, the exploding cost of healthcare. On both those measures Obamacare is off to a solid start, though admittedly the cost curve isn't decreasing its slope as much as we would like. Also, since this is about fiscal responsibility, it should be noted that the administration bent over backward to ensure that the program scored as deficit neutral, even to the point that the GOP tried to bludgeon Obama over cuts to Medicare.

Second, Mr. Keller says that President Obama "tried to find a grand bargain with House Republicans, and failed." I think Mr. Keller forgets who walked away from the negotiating table. It was Speaker Boehner that rejected a deal because it would have included tax increases. Sound familiar? I don't understand how the President "failed" in this instance. He put spending cuts, entitlement  and taxes on the table and the House GOP just walked away.

Third, Mr. Keller suggests the president shouldn't have made the sequester deal and given in to the "blackmail." But what was the alternative? Let the government default? The president was facing an unprecedentedly impetuous House GOP that didn't think the government defaulting on its debt obligations was going to be a terrible thing. Come now, every serious observer at the time said, resoundingly, that some deal is better than no deal if we're jeopardizing the full faith and credit of the United States of America. To suggest otherwise now is to do some Monday morning quarterbacking.

Fourth, Keller doesn't think Obama should have made the deal at the beginning of 2013, the deal that kicked the sequester can down the road, but also secured tax increases for those making more than $400,000 a year. Mr. Keller believes "the Republicans, having budged once on taxes, felt no inclination to budge again." But I think this misreads where the current negotiations stand. President Obama isn't asking to raise taxes. He's asking to close market distorting loopholes and in exchange he's talking about serious entitlement reform. How radical an idea are closing these loopholes? So radical that Speaker Boehner supported doing it in November of 2011.

I'm sorry, but I'm just not buying what Mr. Keller is selling. Without a doubt the president has made mistakes in the negotiations, but you have a president who campaigned on higher taxes for folks earning more than $250k a year and won the election. You have a "socialist" president who has put means testing and chained CPI on the table for entitlement reform. You have a "socialist" president that has already agreed to measures that will cut $4 trillion from the long term debt.

This is not Obama's fault. This is the fault of an intractable opposition that would rather see Rome burn than consider doing things that it considered entirely reasonable less than eighteen months ago. So please, Mr. Keller, let's get the history right and keep in mind the scope of things. And let's also remember this: If only one side is negotiating, you can't reach a deal.

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