Saturday, September 28, 2013

Department of Huh??? Republican Edition

Republicans have presented their list of demands for raising the debt ceiling only to be greeted by complaints from hard liners that it doesn't go far enough.  They want entitlement reform attached as well. Their basic justification for tying their demands to the debt ceiling instead of government funding is that, while the public clearly opposes shutting down the government, it generally agrees that raising the debt ceiling should be tied to cuts in "spending."

There are a couple of problems here.  One is that many of the Republican demands are not about spending at all.  Another is that, although the public hates "government spending," it generally opposes specific cuts. So what would entitlement reform mean?  Well, I suppose to the extent that it means purely spending cuts on the poor, the public might get behind that.  If, on the contrary, it means cuts to Social Security or Medicare -- well, I suppose we should applaud the Tea Party crowd for its principled support for unpopular measures, but the Republican leadership must realize that the measures will be extremely unpopular.

I think I probably misread what happened on the last debt ceiling showdown.  No, not the one in the summer of 2011 that everyone remembers.  The one at the beginning of this year that most people have forgotten because the Republicans caved without a big showdown.  They explained that they had used up a lot of showdown energy over the "fiscal cliff" tax increases and wanted to save it for the sequester fight.  But the main reason they backed down was that the public clearly supported Obama (and also that they were to some extent in the post-electoral honeymoon).  At the time, I thought that they had backed down in large part because after the last debt ceiling showdown, the people had come to understand just how dangerous a breach was and recognized that the Republicans were threatening to blow up the economy.  I begin to think now that the real problem was simply that the Republican demands were extremely unpopular.

This time around, the Republican leadership has tried to get around that problem by presenting an outrageous list of demands, but leaving out the most unpopular stuff.  Yes, the list is outrageous, and basically a demand to implement the Republican platform that the voters rejected a year ago, but what is there in it that Obama could truly hold up to stoke public outrage?  Means testing for Medicare, maybe?  But is the Tea Party crowd insist on adding cuts to Medicare, let alone Social Security, Democrats in general and Obama in particular can simply hold it up as an extortionist demand Republicans are making for not blowing up the economy, and public opinion will turn against Republicans, fast.

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