Sunday, February 24, 2013

Woodward is peddling a nonsense conclusion. Why?

For who knows what reason, Bob Woodward is blowing smoke on the sequester deal.

In an article published yesterday, he makes an allegation about the sequester and the grand bargain it was supposed to stimulate that is so absurd no one even noticed what he now says he meant:
In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.

So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.
There is a major sleight-of-hand embedded here. Woodward is saying, first, that the sequester includes no revenue -- which is plain fact -- but also that it was therefore understood initially that the replacement for the sequester would also include no revenue.

That is palpable nonsense, as I demonstrated yesterday: before the deal was signed, Obama said that the supercommittee would be charged with striking a deal that would include revenue.  The White House elaborated the point that most parties expected the supercommittee to consider a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts from the start.

Now Woodward is back with an email to Politico's Mike Allen spelling out his initial  point, which no one noticed because it was so absurd:

"Take the letter from the 40 Republicans [calling on the supercommittee to consider a mix of spending cuts and new revenue], Boehner's offer of $600 billion in revenue and the Pat Toomey revenue offer. The White House implies that these were part of the sequester negotiation. They were not. The sequester agreement had already been signed into law in the summer. Those offers cited by the White House were made in November, 2011 -- while the supercommittee was trying to reach agreement BEFORE its Nov. 23, 2011, deadline -- and did not relate to the sequester. They were trying to reach agreement precisely to avoid the sequester. Ask the Republicans and Boehner. Or ask the Democrats who were on the committee. There is no doubt the president was seeking more revenue all along and there have been revenue discussions all along. I never said or suggested there were not such discussions. But the president agreed to and signed into law the Budget Control Act in the summer of 2011 that said if the supercommittee failed, a sequester of spending cuts only would take place. That's the agreement and the law. To insist that it be replaced with some revenue (even if that is desirable policy) is to move the goal posts.
One more time: the Budget Control Act stipulates that the supercommittee will be charged with finding $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction, not "spending cuts." From the start, everyone understood that the sequester was cuts-only, and that Democrats would seek to replace it with a mix of revenue and spending cuts.

Woodward has to know that he's talking nonsense here. Why is he doing it?

Update (category: needn't have bothered with this post...): Kevin Drum made essentially the identical point last night, without benefit of Woodward's ridiculous email to Allen: the sequester and the envisioned substitute for the sequester are two different things, and always were. Ezra Klein, meanwhile, steps away from Woodward's semantic nonsense to focus on the essential point: everyone knew that the battle to determine what would replace the sequester was a major fault line in American politics, and we had an election to decide whether revenues would be part of the mix.

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