Lawmakers are gearing up for the budget conference committee that was agreed to in this week's deal, a committee that is supposed to come up with the sequester replacement plan that will please enough in the House and Senate to avoid a repeat shutdown next January. This story
from The New York Times
lays out the ground work, but contains a big fallacy.
After approval late Wednesday of the agreement ending the standoff, the deal-making mantle shifted overnight from the leaders of the Senate to the Budget Committee leaders, Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, and Representative Paul D. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, two less senior lawmakers who nonetheless could make very effective salespeople since they command loyal followings in their parties. The political pressure lifted as well, for now. [...]
Republicans enter these new talks with one advantage: if the negotiations fail, the next round of across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration will hit automatically, even deeper than the first. Democrats want to avoid that far more than Republicans do.
The idea that Democrats have a bigger problem with the next round of sequestration cuts than Republicans is coventional wisdom that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already poked a big hole in
. The current cuts were and are a problem for Democrats. The next round hits defense much harder, making them far more problematic for Republicans.
Reid knows that, and he's not going to allow trades, particularly in Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid, to prevent it. Coming out of this disastrous government shutdown and flirtation with default, Republicans are damaged. There's no need for Democrats to be throwing them any lifesavers by trading away programs which the public deeply cherishes. Reid understands that, and it's not going to happen on his watch.
The article does suggest that no one is thinking about a grand bargain that increases taxes and makes structural changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But it's not the structural changes that we need to worry about. It's the "small" changes that have been on the negotiating table for months and months and months that will still be kicking around: chained CPI, more Medicare means testing and cost-sharing. Those are threats that still exist and that are unnecessary, and that's what Reid has to remain standing against.