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Republicans are starting to squirm and look for ways out of the upcoming sequester. And no wonder: If it goes into effect, it would deal another blow to the economy. It would be wildly unpopular. And, for all the GOP's efforts to pin it on President Obama, Republicans would be in for blame from the public—as they should be. After all, at the time the sequester was signed into law, John Boehner said he'd gotten 98 percent of what he wanted. So how do you solve a problem like the sequester? For Republicans, the answer is a foregone conclusion. You demand massive cuts to the programs that people rely on, and ultimately give in grudgingly on cosmetic compromises on a few teeny tiny revenue increases that Democrats and voters want and that would help the economy.
Here are some of the blows to ordinary people Republicans would be willing to trade to get rid of the sequester: raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. Changes to Medicare premiums. "Reforming" federal pension programs. Chained CPI. Changes to Medicaid. Get the picture?
The list of possible cuts to replace the sequester being bandied about among GOP leadership aides serves to highlight the distance between the two sides. All of these policies would be difficult for Obama to accept without a hefty revenue number.
Obama said he needs to close loopholes as part of a short-term or long-term sequester replacement. And House Republicans are extraordinarily hesitant to do anything that looks like raising taxes. But privately, GOP aides concede that if they get a spending-cut heavy proposal, they could accept some loophole closures to satisfy Democrats.
So while the acknowledgement that new revenue would have to be a part of any deal is starting to emerge, Republicans still have a lot of posturing and hostage-taking to do before they can start to agree to minuscule revenue increases in exchange for massive cuts. And talk about highlighting the differences between the two sides:
At a closed-door retreat in Annapolis, Md., this week, Senate Democratic leaders struck a populist tone. They suggested they could rally public support for a measure that would temporarily suspend the cuts by limiting tax breaks for oil and gas exploration, reducing the tax advantages for wealthy private-equity employees who pay a lower 20 percent capital gains rate on much of their income, and ending tax deductions for the cost of moving business functions overseas.
Of course, the proposal from the Congressional Progressive Caucus would actually create jobs while reducing the deficit, but since Democratic leadership isn't going to do anything crazy like fight for that, those Senate proposals are at least a good counterpoint to the Cut! Cut! Cut! of Republicans, and should draw lots of public support. So please, Senate Democrats, get out ahead of Republicans and really push these ideas. Don't let John Boehner's posturing and bluffing define the public debate.
Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 07:13 AM PST.