In a good sign for the public interest, the talks between the White House and a gang of Republicans trying to negotiate a "grand bargain" fell apart again yesterday, according to the Washington Post. As could easily be expected, the root of the collapse was the "long-standing dispute over taxes." Republicans have consistently opposed the idea of raising additional revenue. The administration and the Democratic leadership have sought revenue, telling progressives that slashing Social Security and Medicare is okay as long as we tax the rich (but never corporations) a teensy bit more. So it goes.
After attending the final session of such talks, Bob Corker (R-TN) remarked, “It’s very evident that there just isn’t common ground at present and we’ve all agreed there’s no reason for these talks to continue." You don't say!
President Obama and his team began meeting with eight GOP senators earlier this summer in hopes of reaching an agreement to raise the $16.7 trillion debt limit and replace sharp automatic budget cuts known as the sequester.First of all, I would like to highlight that, contrary to what the administration says, it is negotiating over the debt ceiling. Those negotiations just blend into the budget negotiations. The question, obviously, will not be whether the debt ceiling gets raised, but what concessions the White House is willing to offer in budget talks (or the negotiation of a continuing resolution).
The eight were dubbed the Diners Club on Capitol Hill because they had been culled from a larger group of Republican senators who accepted Obama’s invitation in March to dine at the White House and a downtown hotel in hopes of settling a battle over the budget that has dominated Washington since the GOP took control of the House in 2011.
Through multiple meetings with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the group discussed a range of options, including a “grand bargain” that would involve a complete restructuring of Medicare, according to people familiar with the meetings, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.
I would expect that a "complete restructuring of Medicare" would entail more than the increased means testing the president has frequently endorsed. I doubt such "complete restructuring" would finally allow the government to negotiate for prescription drug prices. Jay Rockefeller's proposal to do so doesn't even have half of the Democratic caucus on yet as co-sponsors, and such legislation would be DOA in the minds of Republicans. Obama has also regularly shown support for raising the Medicare retirement age (a horrible idea), but a "complete restructuring" suggests far more. It almost sounds as though he said he'd be willing to give Republicans Paul Ryan's Medicare voucher plan in exchange for a little extra in taxes. Hopefully, that wasn't the case, but Obama, Jack Lew, and Gene Sperling's activities in June and July of 2011 inspire no confidence.
Let's go back to WaPo for more:
The group also discussed a smaller deal that would replace much of the remaining sequester savings — about $500 billion over the next eight years — with narrower reforms to Medicare, Social Security and other mandatory-spending programs, such as farm subsidies.In case you've forgotten, the President's standing sequestration replacement plan shifts cuts from the Pentagon to Social Security and Medicare.
Administration officials said the White House remains open to meeting with the senators and that Obama’s $1.2 trillion plan to replace the sequester — which pairs $600 billion in new taxes with significant cuts to health and retirement programs — remains on the table.
There is only one responsible proposal to consider for dealing with sequestration: John Conyers's Cancel the Sequester Act of 2013. Don't replace sequestration with a "balanced" (meaning not-actually-balanced-in-fact-very-regressive) mix of tax increases and spending cuts. Just repeal it. End stop. 37 Democrats have signed on to Conyers's bill. The White House has of yet shown no interest whatsoever.
The Republicans in this dining club were the following: Bob Corker (TN), Johnny Isakson (GA), Daniel Coats (IN), Kelly Ayotte (NH), John Hoeven (ND), Ron Johnson (WI), John McCain (AZ), and Lindsey Graham (SC). According to WaPo, Obama also discussed Syria with them. Discussing Syria with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte? I think we can guess how that discussion went.
When it comes to budget talks, I expect that Republican intransigence will continue to save the President from himself. So it goes.