Republicans offered new revenue during the supercommittee negotiations.
There's a bizarre meta-argument about the sequester going on in Washington right now.
The debate isn't about whether the $1.2 trillion of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts set to kick in are a good idea; and it's not about what, if anything, should replace these cuts (or whether it should all just be canceled); it's about whether it's fair to replace some of these cuts with revenue increases. Or, as legendary Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward put it, would demanding a balanced approach of cuts and revenues, as President Obama has, be "moving the goal posts" on deficit reduction?
Here's what Bob Woodward had to say about it recently:
In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation's debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.
It's worth remembering why President Obama and Republicans created the sequester in the first place. Back in 2011, Republicans refused to lift the debt ceiling without an equivalent amount of long-term deficit reduction. After flirting with a voluntary default on our obligations, if not our debt, the two sides reached a three-part deal. They 1) lifted the debt ceiling, 2) agreed on $900 billion of cuts over the next decade, and 3) agreed to agree to at least $1.2 trillion of further savings. They set up a bipartisan, bicameral "supercommittee" to find these savings, and set up the sequester as a fallback plan in case the supercommittee failed. The idea was the sequester cuts were so onerous and indiscriminate that both sides would have to come together. In other words, blackmail themselves into reaching a deal. It didn't work.
But, as my colleague Molly Ball points out, the supercommittee has mostly been forgotten during this strange, sad sequester finger-pointing. So has the deal they worked on. Here's what the Washington Post reported about the unsuccessful negotiations:
Although Republicans offered to raise taxes by $300 billion over the next decade, they insisted on conditions that all but guaranteed that the wealthy would not be hit hard. And Democrats refused to agree to deep cuts in spending on health care for the poor and the elderly unless the rich were forced to make greater sacrifices.
In other words, the Republicans moved the goal posts on revenues back in 2011. Now, can we get back to debating what we should do to promote and protect the still-fragile recovery?
Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.