Ringside Seat: Grand Blergain

The sequester cuts have begun to bite, and if Congress doesn't pass a continuing resolution by the end of the month, the federal government will shut down. With that deadline looming, talk has turned once again to the possibility of a Grand Bargain, in which Republicans and Democrats come together in the spirit of compromise, putting aside their differences for the good of the country. "Yeah right," you may be saying, and you have good reason to be skeptical.

When Washington pundits who worship at the altar of centrism talk about a Grand Bargain, what they usually mean is that Republicans will accept a modest bit of tax increases, while Democrats will give in to the Republican desire to undermine the social safety net. This is usually referred to as "reining in entitlements," as all Serious People know we must. If you point out that Social Security is actually doing just fine, and that Obamacare already found enormous savings in Medicare, and that Medicare is much more cost-effective than the private portions of the American health care system, then you're obviously not one of those Serious People who knows that there are some luxuries in which we can no longer indulge.

To get a sense of how the discussion about a Grand Bargain might go, consider two things that happened today. President Obama—the guy who, you may recall, just won an election—went to Capitol Hill and told legislators from his party that they were just going to have to accept cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, House Budget Committee chair Paul Ryan—the guy who, you may recall, was on the losing end of that election—released a budget that would voucherize Medicare, slash Medicaid and food stamps, cut taxes for the wealthy, and repeal Obamacare. Sounds like both sides are equally ready to compromise, doesn't it?

 

So They Say

"We're trying to stay united. I think we're getting pretty united. ... I’m not going to talk about that because I want us to get united first. And then we’ll be united."

Senator Claire McCaskill, after Obama's visit to the Hill

Daily Meme: Conclave Game-Changers

  • Budget, schmudget. The Vatican conclave is the story claiming the world press's attention today, as hundreds of reporters and Catholics stand around Rome waiting for the tell-tale white smoke that announced the arrival of a new pope.
  • Except the smoke signal reporting system is about as accurate as CNN post-Supreme Court decision. Why can't they just tweet when there's a new pope?
  • Sister Mary Ann Walsh is worried about how a lack of Twitter commentary could hurt those inside the conclave:  "In this electronic age, I worry some cardinals may go into iPad and Twitter withdrawal."
  • "The phone doesn't work, the TV doesn't work. They have no e-mail, they have no Internet, they have no cellphones." Ouch.
  • But, it's somewhat refreshing that, despite the new attention that Twitter has brought the papal elections, it's the sole political event where excitement and gossip can run amok without being tainted by polling firms or exit polls. Not that the reporters are always reliable...
  • Around 3 p.m., the first plume of black smoke erupted from the papal chimney, which means more waiting. Don't worry, though: Although the cardinals might not have Internet access, we do! There's plenty of Vatican factoids waiting to be learned.
  • Kevin Roose made some helpful charts that detail the financial reach of the Vatican, which is also having some trouble figuring out how to navigate publishing in the age of the Internet.
  • For your enjoyment, infographics and stick figures from inside the conclave! For even more enjoyment, 115 pictures of old dudes who might be pope by the end of the week!
  • And for those of you at war between paying attention to college basketball or paying attention to the Pope, no fear! There are March Madness brackets for each. 
  • Also, apparently we came this close to having a fake bishop taking part in the big event. 
  • And if you've ever thought, hmm, conclave is a lot like something you might be onBig Brotheryou'd be right!

What We're Writing

  • Clare Malone looks at The Bachelor and how the reality show reveals more about modern women than any high-minded HBO drama.
  • Immigration reform has crept back into the spotlight recently, and one of America's leading experts, Demetrios Papademetriou, surveys the origins of the problem and explains how to do reform the right way. It's our print issue's cover story.

What We're Reading

  • Bloomberg Businessweek has a new infographic that has nothing encouraging to say about the United States's relationship with guns.
  • When it comes to judicial appointments, Obama is kinda screwed.
  • Corbin Hair unpacks the International Conservation Caucus Foundation, which is spending money left and right in an attempt to woo Capitol Hill.
  • Marin Cogan reports on how Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio's special friendship could decide how 2016 plays out on the Republican front.
  • Ginger Gibson reports on the senators who are especially skilled at avoiding reporters.
  • Bill Clinton was content to wait on Bosnia for three years and more massacres than anyone would like to count, and Obama seems happy to follow suit in Syria. Lingering reluctance from the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan don't make it the right thing to do.
  • The queen of scary maps, Mother Jones, has another that'll tell you if your state had more deaths by Remington or by Range Rover, and it's more than you'd think. Weekly reminder: 2,605 shooting deaths since Newtown. (That's more than one Newtown per day, people.)
  • Always dipping grubby fingers into the cookie jars of public good, the Koch Brothers are considering a bid on the Tribune Company, owner of the Los Angeles Times,Baltimore Sun, and Chicago Tribune
  • Buying your way into the White House has a long and storied tradition, one that Barack Obama, by way of his non-profit, Organizing for Action, has been nowhere near too proud to sidestep. They might be letting the rich run the place, but at least they're almost up front about it.

Poll of the Day

 

The survey du jour hails from Pew, and its sounding of American economic opinion is as inconclusive as ever. Most of us have been hearing mixed news about the economy, while 33 percent have been hearing mostly bad, and 7 percent mostly good. However, this month, bad news about gas is up by 21 points to 74 percent, versus just 4 percent of respondents hearing good news about it. Might be great for Mother Earth, at least.

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