President vs. Congress: Deal or no deal?

Updated
President Obama delivers remarks at the Organizing for Action dinner in Washington on March 13, 2013
President Obama delivers remarks at the Organizing for Action dinner in Washington on March 13, 2013
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

In President Obama’s meeting with House Republicans yesterday, they took the rare opportunity to ask hard questions like: “Why don’t you balance the budget, just like families do?”

Ummm… does your family print money and have nuclear weapons?

And what about those White House Tours?

Really? That’s your biggest concern about sequestration?

One reported exchange stood out. Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp asked the president why they couldn’t just go ahead and pass Chained CPI benefit cuts to Social Security and means testing for Medicare since the president has said he would be willing to accept both of these changes.

Now, I’m going to give Chairman Camp the benefit of the doubt and assume he was being intentionally dense. The president calmly explained that these were items reluctantly offered as part of a negotiation and that Republicans would also have to give something up in order to grab their social safety net cut goodies.

In other words, he explained what has been the operating framework for a potential Grand Bargain for oh about the last 3 years. Increasingly though, Dems are asking themselves if a Grand Bargain is even something they want at all. Is there anything they could possibly get from House Republicans that would be worth these cuts to social programs?

The whole idea of a Grand Bargain is really a Republican deficit hawk conceit–one that Democrats were forced into accepting after the GOP wave election of 2010 but are finding a bit tougher to swallow now. Shouldn’t we really be focusing on jobs for now;  infrastructure and investment for the future?

Second, even the more budget-balancing-inclined of the Democratic caucus is starting to look at the numbers and say, hey, actually the deficit is coming down at a pretty good clip. The deficit peaked in 2009 and has in fact been falling rapidly since then.

Despite what Republicans would have you believe, Democrats don’t love raising taxes just for the sake of raising taxes. We do so in the service of creating a fairer tax code, funding investments for the future and in the service of a balanced approached to deficit reduction. If you take the deficit reduction concerns off the table–and lord knows that any sort of investment spending right now is not going to pass muster with the House Republicans–than you’re just left with the fairness motive. While a more just system would be nice, does it offset the injustice of cutting benefits to folks who rely on social security?

To scuttle a Grand Bargain deal, though, Democrats need some sort of political cover. Hmmm… if only some Republican would put out a really toxic, extreme, ideological budget plan that Democrats could point to as evidence of continued uncompromising Republican intransigence. Then they could probably walk away without political consequence. You know, I think I know just the guy.

President vs. Congress: Deal or no deal?

Updated