This is why Obama can’t make a deal with Republicans: File this under “Jonathan Chait is right.”… [A] background briefing I attended with a respected Republican legislator who thought it would be a gamechanger for President Obama to say he’d be open to chained CPI — a policy that cuts Social Security benefits — as part of a budget deal. The only problem? Obama has said he’s open to chained CPI as part of a budget deal. And this isn’t one of those times where the admission was in private, and we’re going off of news reports. It’s right there on his Web site. It’s literally in bold type. But key GOP legislators have no idea Obama’s made that concession. The question my column left open was whether improving the lines of communication would actually change anything. Chait’s view is no, it wouldn’t. He begins by quoting Upton Sinclair’s famous line: “It is impossible to make a man understand something if his livelihood depends on not understanding it.” Chait continues:
If Obama could get hold of Klein’s mystery legislator and inform him of his budget offer, it almost certainly wouldn’t make a difference. He would come up with something – the cuts aren’t real, or the taxes are awful, or they can’t trust Obama to carry them out, or something.
What happened next on Twitter proved Chait’s point in every particular. Mike Murphy… has been a top strategist for Mitt Romney, John McCain, Jeb Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger and many other Republicans. He’s also, as his client list would suggest, from the party’s more pragmatic, even moderate, wing…. On Feb. 13, Murphy wrote in Time that “six magic words can unlock the door to the votes inside the Republican fortress: Some beneficiaries pay more and chained CPI, budgetary code for slightly lowering benefit increases over time.” The only problem? Obama has said all these words, as John Harwood of the New York Times quickly pointed….
Murphy responded by suggesting that sure, Obama has called for more means-testing in Medicare, but he’s not put chained CPI — CCPI, if you’re hamstrung by Twitter’s 140-character limit — on the board…. [But he] endorsed it as part of a cliff deal, and he’s kept endorsing it, as his sequestration plan clearly says, since the cliff deal fell apart. This was quickly pointed out to Murphy on Twitter, at which point, he promptly proved Chait’s thesis correct….
So let’s back up. Murphy’s initial view was that to unlock GOP votes for a budget deal, Obama just needed to endorse chained CPI and more means-testing in Medicare. Then it was pointed out that Obama has endorsed means-testing in Medicare, so Murphy wondered why he didn’t endorse chained CPI as part of a deal. Then it was pointed out that Obama did endorse chained CPI, at which point Murphy called chained CPI “a gimmick,” and said Obama had to endorse raising the Medicare age, drop his demands for more revenue as part of a deal and earn back the GOP’s trust.
Recall what Chait said would happen if the Republican legislator in my column was forced to react to the fact that Obama has endorsed chained CPI: “He would come up with something – the cuts aren’t real, or the taxes are awful, or they can’t trust Obama to carry them out, or something.” Check, check, and check. Which is all to say that there’s no deal here….
The bottom line on American budgetary politics right now is that… there’s no deal to be had…. It’s what Hill Republicans have told me, it’s what the White House has told me, it what Hill Democrats have told me. The various camps disagree on whether Republicans are right to refuse a deal that includes further tax increases, but they all agree that that’s the key fact….
But it’s unpopular for Republicans to simply say they won’t agree to any compromise and there’s no deal to be had — particularly since taxing the wealthy is more popular than cutting entitlements, and so their position is less popular than Obama’s. That’s made it important for Republicans to prove that it’s the president who is somehow holding up a deal. This had led to a lot of Republicans fanning out to explain what the president should be offering if he was serious about making a deal. Then, when it turns out that the president did offer those items, there’s more furious hand-waving….
The interesting question is whether the possibility of a government shutdown, a debt-ceiling breach or simply the pressure of the sequester’s cuts will, in the coming months, break one side or the other. But as long as the GOP’s position is they won’t compromise, there’s not going to be a compromise.