Choosing to Lose

Following the defeat of both the Republican and Democratic budget proposals in the Senate on Wednesday, it seemed both parties had the opportunity to go back to the drawing board and adopt a new strategy. For Democrats, this was the perfect opening to escape the narrow, Republican-enforced confines of a debate on non-defense discretionary spending and look at the bigger picture.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, seized the opportunity by proposing to “put everything on the table,” including a millionaire’s tax, an end to oil, gas and agriculture subsidies, cuts to defense spending, and a crackdown on tax dodging and income-tax sheltering. Moving beyond spending cuts makes sound economic sense – even the $60 billion in cuts proposed by Republicans only represents less than 4 percent of the deficit. But it is also the single most popular tract Democrats could take right now. The left has been desperately calling for them to take a stronger position, and the reforms in Schumer’s proposal are strongly supported by public-opinion polls. He also has support within the caucus from senators sick of looking weak in this debate.

Unfortunately, the administration quickly shut Schumer down. White House press secretary Jay Carney dismissed his proposal, saying, “I don't think that anyone thinks between now and March 18 we will resolve entitlement reform, tax expenditures, and all the other issues that go into a much bigger deal." It’s one thing for the administration to remain above the fray of the budget debate, but a whole other to shut down a productive strategy within party leadership. Schumer’s plan deals with real budget issues, while putting Republicans on the defense over tax reform and defense spending. The parties are locked in a stalemate, and Democrats have no hope of winning if they keep playing on Republican terms.