John BoehnerThis is how I imagine the budget negotiation going. Boehner looks Obama in the eye and says, "My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, because... I don't know what that is!" The one thing that we see coming from every source is that despite the negotiations, the Republicans refuse to say what they want to cut. Greg Sargent at The Plum Line writes, The Morning Plum: Dems Hold the Middle Ground. GOP Is on Fringe. (Kind of annoying: who's on the left fringe?) He quotes a source who says, "To date [the Republicans] have been unwilling or able to identify a list of specific cuts or changes they would like or a single loophole they are willing to close."

Sargent goes on to note three aspects of the negotiations that show that this is not a situation where both sides are equally at fault.[1] First, the Republicans are still saying they will never raise the top income tax bracket. Second, the Democrats are pushing a mixed set of policies that include things that they themselves don't like. Third, as the negotiations go on, the Republicans are demanding ever deeper cuts, even as they refuse to say what to cut. So yes, boys and girls: the Great Pumpkin and reasonableness from Republicans are both myths.

Paul Krugman, following Sargent, notes that there is one thing that the Republicans have been clear about cutting, but even it is a phantom:

Even the one real budget cut they've been willing to endorse specifically, savage cuts to Medicaid, involved block-granting and turning it over to states, so that they don't have to specify who, exactly, will be denied medical care. And with Obama dead set against that kind of cut, they have nothing.

But maybe I was wrong at the start of this article when I characterized Boehner as being ignorant of the budget. It is more likely that he is very much aware of where the budget stands. And thus, he knows two thing. First, there isn't that much to cut. Second, the things he and his Republican allies want to cut are politically toxic. In that case, it would be more correct to characterize Boehner's position this way, "You can have my answer now, if you like. My final offer is this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license, because... The people like gaming licenses. But if you would be willing to take the heat for policies that I want, well then, my offer will be this: nothing. Not even the fee for the gaming license."



[1] I have a question: is it ever the case where both sides are equally wrong? Over time, you could certainly make that case. You could say that over the last 40 years, the Palestinians and Israelis have been about equally wrong. (I'm not saying that, because I really don't know; but it seems like a reasonable assertion that people could argue about.) But to say in any given situation that the two sides are equally wrong is just madness. It also doesn't punish whoever happens to be wrong and it encourages reasonable people to act badly.