The Strange Connection Between Budget Reporting and IQ Drops in the 202 Area Code

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

Is there something about budget showdowns that gradually but relentlessly lowers the collective IQ of Beltway pundits? Examples abound. For example, we’ve recently seen a whole spate of folks pretending that all our problems could be solved if only President Obama somehow just unleashed his presidential superpowers and made Congress pass a reasonable long-term deficit plan. Jessica Yellin gave us the nutshell version of this last week when she asked Obama, “Couldn’t you just have them down here and refuse to let them leave the room until you have a deal?”

Then there was Ezra Klein, who surely knows better, suggesting on Friday that perhaps Republicans have stuck to their hardline position so long because they were simply unaware that Obama had offered them much of what they wanted. This was quickly followed up the next day in the face of epic evidence that this rather obviously hasn’t been the roadblock.

Today, we have Doyle McManus of the LA Times, suggesting that the entire crisis is silly because both sides have already agreed on what needs to be done:

If you listen closely to Obama and leading members of both parties in the Senate, you’ll find that they’ve already reached a rough consensus about how to shrink the federal deficit in a smarter way. They’ll cut the same amount, but they’ll spread it around differently and perhaps delay some of the cuts. Then they will make changes in “entitlements” (Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security) to reduce their future cost. And they will enact tax reform to raise federal revenues, not by raising tax rates but by making more income taxable at existing rates.

There will be plenty of wrangling over the details, of course. But a bipartisan majority already agrees on these basic elements.

This is insanity. Republicans have very decidedly not agreed to any kind of tax reform that raises federal revenues. This is the whole crux of the debate. They have never agreed to anything other than revenue-neutral tax reform.

Might they change their minds someday? Sure. But the history here is plain. A small handful of Republican senators have suggested we might need to raise taxes eventually as part of a grand bargain. That’s it. There’s no consensus about this in the GOP Senate caucus, and there’s certainly noconsensus on this in the GOP House caucus. Quite the contrary. McManus even kinda sorta admits this toward the end of his column.

Obama wants a long-term budget deal that combines spending cuts with tax increases. Republicans, with only a few scattered exceptions, are united on demanding a budget deal that cuts spending but doesn’t include even a dime in higher revenues. That’s it. That’s been their position for at least the past two decades and there’s no evidence at all that it’s going to change anytime soon.  Remember, back in July 2011, John Boehner walking away from a proposal for huge spending cuts when his caucus revolted over accepting modest, but real, tax increases as part of the deal, not just fake “dynamic scoring” revenue increases? Remember, during a Republican presidential debate a few days later, the instant and unanimous show of hands opposed to a deal that was 10:1 spending cuts to tax increases? More recently, remember the mantra among Republican leaders that “taxes are done”?

Republicans have refused to accept tax increases as part of a deficit deal since 1990. They continue to refuse. They agreed to the fiscal cliff deal not because they accept the need for higher taxes, but because the Bush tax cuts were expiring automatically and they flatly had no choice in the matter. Why do so many smart people keep trying to make this more complicated than it is?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend