“Round two’s coming,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “And we’re going to have one hell of a contest about the direction and the vision of this country.”First, congratulations to Sen. Graham on starting the New Year with a fresh burst of optimism that at long last the GOP will achieve its agenda of screwing the old people who vote for them. Huzzah!
Many Republicans believe they’ll have more leverage then than they do now because the debate over tax rates on the wealthy will be settled. [...]
Graham said he anticipates forcing Democrats to give in on a long list of the GOP’s top spending priorities in the new year: raising the eligibility age for Medicare, increasing premiums for its wealthier beneficiaries, and trimming Social Security benefits by using a new method to calculate inflation.
“I think if we insist on changes like that, we’ll get them,” he said.
That said, however, Graham is nuts if he actually believes Republicans have the leverage to force Democrats to accept those sorts of cuts. To be clear, I'm not saying those cuts aren't achievable—it's just they can't be achieved unless Democrats decide they want them as well.
That's because the debt limit doesn't give Republicans the leverage they think it does. President Obama has repeatedly said he will not negotiate over it. If Republicans take us into default, then they are going to own that mess. And after what we saw with the tax cliff, I doubt they really are prepared to own something as severe as default. But even if they are, we can't negotiate with economic terrorists.
Bottom line: If President Obama decides to back down from his pledge it won't be because he had no other choice. It will be because he decided to. He is in complete control of how much leverage Republicans have on the debt limit.
The debt limit isn't the only vehicle in which Graham could achieve his goals, however. There's also the debate over the sequester, the reemergence of a grand bargain, and the annual spending battles over discretionary funding. But, as with the debt limit, the GOP does not have any leverage to force Democrats to approve spending cuts they weren't already prepared to accept.
On the sequester, it's hard to imagine any Democrat trading away Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid in order to delay or reduce sequester spending cuts, especially on defense. But if they do, it will be because they wanted to—not because they were forced to.
On the grand bargain, as long as President Obama keeps his pledge to get as much in revenue as he gives up in spending cuts, there will not be a deal—because Republicans won't accept new tax increases. But again, even if Republicans do agree to new tax increases, Democrats won't be forced into anything. They'll be doing what they've said they want to do.
Finally, on the annual discretionary spending bills, if Republicans think they have leverage, then they think Democrats won't be eager to let them shut the government down over a demand to cut Social Security and Medicare. I guarantee that Democrats would love nothing more than to kick off the 2014 midterm elections with Republicans demanding Social Security and Medicare cuts—or else.
Once again, I'm not being pollyanna here. I'm not saying Democrats won't agree to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid cuts. In fact, they've repeatedly made it clear that they are very willing to do just that. But what I am saying is that there is no scenario under which Republicans have the political leverage to force Democrats to accept such cuts. Moreover, if the president and congressional Democrats keep their promise to only accept such cuts in exchange for tax increases, then there probably won't be any cuts at all because Republicans aren't going to increase taxes anytime soon. But if there are cuts, it won't be because Republicans gave Democrats no other choice: It will be because Democrats decided they wanted to make them.