New York Times reporter Jackie Calmes’s lead story, “Behind Battle Over Debt, A War Over Government – Deal Elusive as 2 Parties Cling to Principles in Dispute Over Washington’s Role,” reels off a slanted history of recent Washington budget wars. Calmes baldly stated the G.O.P. isn’t serious about deficit reduction and treated Obama’s abrupt negotiating tactic on supposed deep spending cuts as equivalent to the G.O.P.’s long-standing, specific budget proposals
Calmes’s reporting is often weighted toward Democrats, and she has expressed her sympathies for Obama in his dealings with Republicans the last few years, complaining the G.O.P. had not sufficiently “accomodated” the president by passing Obama-care and financial regulation. She wrote for Friday’s lead:
The endgame in the fight to increase the nation’s debt limit has only begun, but intense exchanges this week between the two parties have made it clear that this is not so much a negotiation over dollars and cents as a broader clash between the two parties over the size and role of government.
What makes a bipartisan “grand bargain” so elusive is less the budget numbers, on which compromise could be in reach, than each side’s principles, which do not lend themselves to splitting the difference. President Obama wants deficit reduction, including tax increases for wealthier Americans and corporations. Congressional Republicans, prodded by a cadre of junior lawmakers, want a vastly smaller government constrained by lower taxes. The two are not the same thing.
A $700-billion dollar (failed) economic “stimulus” plan and expensive Obama-care are strange ways for a leader to demonstrate his passion for “deficit reduction.”
Calmes strongly suggested the conservative quest for budget cuts was a deservedly doomed crusade.
Underlying the budget drama between the White House and Congressional Republicans is another compelling drama among Republicans, which exposes an ideological and generational gap. On one side are older, more senior conservatives like the two top leaders, Speaker John A. Boehner and Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, who remember the budget fights and Republican setbacks of the 1990s and want some deal.
Calmes evidently saw no economic stimulus value in Republican tax cut proposals.
[Obama] demands a “balanced package” of both spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy and corporations, while Republicans reject any new tax revenues.
Republicans have shown that their higher priority is not lower deficits, as it was for the party through most of the last century, but a smaller government. House Republicans in the spring passed a plan that would not balance the budget for three decades despite deep cuts in Medicare and Medicaid -- largely because it also deeply cut taxes, adding debt.
The party’s dynamic in the debt talks reflects the culmination of a 30-year evolution in Republican thinking, dating to the start of President Ronald Reagan’s administration. The change is from emphasizing balanced budgets -- or at least lower deficits -- to what tax-cutting conservatives have called “starve the beast,” that is, cut taxes and force government to shrink.
The starve-the-beast philosophy is even more problematic now because the population is aging as baby boomers retire even as medical costs keep rising -- a combination that is driving the projections of an unsustainably growing federal debt.
While the new-generation Republicans venerate Mr. Reagan, those who were in Congress when he was president say he would not understand their refusal to compromise on a package of the size Mr. Obama proposes.
“He had a rule: If you can agree on 80 percent, take it,” said Alan K. Simpson, who was the second-ranking Senate Republican leader back then. “He raised taxes 11 times in eight years,” Mr. Simpson added. “He did it to make the country run.”
Near the end Calmes wondered why Obama wasn’t getting more credit for his (new-found) fiscal discipline:
Almost lost in the tax debate with Republicans is how much Mr. Obama has conceded to them this year on spending cuts, including for those entitlement programs Democrats favor.
But how much spending-cut credit does Obama deserve? According to a Washington Times report Wednesday: “The Senate's top Republican said Wednesday that in the closed-door budget talks, the White House was offering just an additional $2 billion in actual spending cuts for 2012 -- compared to an expected deficit of $1.1 trillion for the whole year.”