This progressive says, "Thank you, House Republican leader John Boehner. You just served up a juicy political victory to President Obama by throwing a hissy fit and walking away from the debt limit negotiations yesterday."
If Boehner had accepted Obama's deal, which was tilted toward Republican positions, lots of Democrats (including me) would have freaked out.
As Jonathan Cohn's cogent analysis in The New Republic points out, Obama was poised to cut Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security in ways that would have hurt seniors and poor people. This also would have taken away a powerful argument that Dems are eager to use in the 2012 elections: "Republicans are trying to destroy Medicare; we're committed to saving it."
Nobody disputes that, except for the revenue part, the administration and Boehner had agreement over virtually everything else. And it was a deal that, like Obama’s previous offers, was strikingly tilted towards Republican priorities. Among the provisions Obama to which Obama had said yes, according to a senior administration official, were the following:
Medicare: Raising the eligibility age, imposing higher premiums for upper income beneficiaries, changing the cost-sharing structure, and shifting Medigap insurance in ways that would likely reduce first-dollar coverage. This was to generate about $250 billion in ten-year savings. This was virtually identical to what Boehner offered.
Medicaid: Significant reductions in the federal contribution along with changes in taxes on providers, resulting in lower spending that would likely curb eligibility or benefits. This was to yield about $110 billion in savings. Boehner had sought more: About $140 billion. But that’s the kind of gap ongoing negotiation could close.
Social Security: Changing the formula for calculating cost-of-living increases in order to reduce future payouts. The idea was to close the long-term solvency gap by one-third, although it likely would have taken more than just this one reform to produce enough savings for that.
There's still a possibility that this "grand deal" can be resurrected. But such seems unlikely. Boehner reportedly wants a debt ceiling plan by tomorrow, Sunday. I don't see Obama caving in to Boehner's ridiculous resistance to reasonable revenue increases.
After all, PolitiFact supports Obama's contention that a clear majority of Americans, 70% or more, favor a balanced approach to reducing the deficit that includes both spending cuts and revenue increases.
So Obama is fortunate that Boehner walked away from a political victory, since the deal Obama offered to him included a lower percentage of revenue increases than the Bowles-Simpson report or Gang of Six recommendation called for.
The main difference, as both sides acknowledge, was over the size of the new revenue. They’d basically settled the basic principles of how to get the money: By closing loopholes, broadening the base, and lowering rates overall. Boehner had offered $800 billion, or roughly the equivalent of letting the upper income tax cuts expire. Obama had counter-offered $1.2 trillion.
But even the $1.2 trillion Obama was seeking – and remember, this was a proposal over which the White House says it expected to keep negotiating – was still far less than the revenue either the Bowles-Simpson chairmen or the Senate’s Gang of Six, two bipartisan groups, had recommended.
Or, to put it more simply, both proposals were far more tilted towards the Republican position, of seeking to balance the budget primarily if not wholly through spending cuts.
Yet Boehner chose to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Why? Seemingly because Tea Party Republicans look upon Thou shalt never raise taxes as a fundamentalist politico-religious commandment.
Which can't be broken. Ever. Even if the economic health of the United States economy depends upon doing so. Because fundamentalists aren't rational or reasonable. They're driven by blind faith.
This puts Boehner in a terrible position. The American public wants a balanced approach to reducing the deficit. Tea Party crazies are dead set against any revenue increases. So Boehner either is going to irritate voters or the most fervent members of his House caucus.
Over on NPR, Frank James has one of the best analyses of the debt limit negotiations that I've read (and I've read a lot). He does a great job of asking pertinent questions about what Boehner and Obama are up to.
This leads to another question which Boehner was asked at his Capitol Hill news conference.
A reporter asked how Boehner could walk away from the prospect of a deal that was meant to avert default over what amounted to $40 billion a year or $400 billion over ten years?
Boehner said the extra $400 billion would've been a tax increase plain and simple and he couldn't abide that.
More questions. So Boehner couldn't reach a deal with Obama but he's going to try to reach one with Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader at the table? How, pray tell, is that going to work?
(Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader will also be at the table. McConnell is the creator of a proposal that would essentially yield Obama the power to raise the debt ceiling even as Republicans voted against it.)
Reid is the same man who on Friday killed the "Cut, Cap and Balance" legislation proudly passed by Boehner's House Republicans. Reid actually killed the bill earlier than he had initially said he would, calling extended debate on a bill going nowhere a waste of time.
Reid is also the leader of a group of Senate Democrats who acted like they were fed saltpeter after they heard rumors Thursday that Obama was close to striking a deal with Boehner that would have frontloaded all the GOP-sought spending cuts and backloaded the revenue increases Democrats wanted.
In otherwords, they thought Obama had gone wobbly on them and were very upset.
Then there's Pelosi. She's only considered one of Capitol Hill's toughest negotiators. Pelosi is said to be so unyielding on her issues that Obama didn't let her take part in last year's negotiations on extending the Bush tax cuts and jobless benefits for fear that she would have made any deal impossible.
Again, the question would be why does Boehner think he'll have more success with these congressional Democrats than with Obama?
Maybe he will. Maybe Boehner will turn out to be a genius negotiator who knew what he was doing when he walked away from Obama's offer of a deal.
But my bet is that Boehner's political current on this issue hit its high water mark a few days ago and now is sinking.