There is No "Fever" to Break

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The New York Times's reports today that President Obama has invited a dozen GOP senators out to dinner, in an effort to get around Republican leadership and build support for a new agreement on long-term deficit reduction. As Greg Sargent writes for The Washington Post, "It’s not hard to figure out what Obama is telling these Senators: He’s telling them what his actual deficit reduction plan contains — a mix of real entitlement cuts and new revenues."

This sounds like something Republicans should already know, but they don't. In an interview with Ezra Klein last week, one unnamed Republican lawmaker was surprised to learn that Obama had floated Social Security adjustments (chained CPI, in particular) as part of a deal for new revenue. Likewise, on Twitter, Republican strategist Mike Murphy had no idea that Obama had offered chained CPI and Medicare cuts in exchange for new revenue. But here's the important thing: When this was pointed out to him, he dismissed the former as a "small-beans gimmick."

I wish President Obama luck in reaching out to Republicans, but I'm not sure the issue is knowledge or understanding. This morning, the Republican National Committee put out a web video attacking Democratic leaders for refusing to say America has a spending problem:



Gone unmentioned in GOP rhetoric is the fact that—sequestration aside—Democrats have agreed to nearly $3 trillion in deficit reduction over the next ten years. When you add in sequestration, that jumps to $4 trillion, the stated target for Simpson-Bowles and other deficit reduction plans. Moreover, Senate Democrats have agreed to accept the general spending levels set by the House GOP's government-funding bill, which reflects the sequester. In other words, Democrats will accept the sequester cuts as a baseline for budgeting.

Republicans have made large strides in reducing the size of government, even if it's come at the expense of economic growth—the last two years of spending cuts have put a huge drag on the recovery. Despite this, they continue to insist on more and deeper cuts, and—at the moment—are crafting a budget that would balance the budget in ten years by vastly reducing (or eliminating) social services and other essential functions. It's the Ryan budget, cranked to eleven.

When it comes to securing an agreement for long-term deficit reduction, the problem isn't information. Obama could devote the next six months to educating Republicans about his plan and I doubt it would make a difference.

The nut of the problem is the fundamental divide between Democrats and Republicans on the function of the federal government. Democrats want deficit reduction as a way to preserve the welfare state for future generations. Republicans are less concerned with reducing the deficit—hence the opposition to taxes—and more interested in dismantling the safety net altogether. On a smaller scale, it's what Bobby Jindal is pursuing in Louisiana, and what Sam Brownback has implemented in Kansas. When Republican lawmakers attempt to move in the other direction, they're either shutdown—Florida Republicans, for example, rejected Governor Rick Scott's attempt to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act—or shunned.

It's clear Obama still thinks he can break the GOP's "fever," but this isn't an aberration. There is no fever. It's what they are, and it's what the party stands for. The modern Republican Party—its activists, lawmakers, and fundraisers—is devoted to shrinking the welfare state. This is what the GOP is—a party devoted to shrinking the welfare state, and there's little Obama can do to change that fact.