Quick, Quick, Give Me Your Wallet

Today’s overriding political news is about the brave Republicans (a mob of three or four, at this point) who are signaling their defiance of Grover Norquist and a willingness to put revenues on the table in the ongoing fiscal talks. In nearly every MSM story, the implicit message to Democrats is that courageous “moderates” like Lindsay Graham and Saxbe Chambliss and Peter King and now Bob Corker need to be covered in rose petals and offered an immediate deal.

Each of these fearless rebels is, of course, making its hypothetical support for more revenues strictly contingent on “entitlement reform”–not just spending restraint. And the entire media discussion of the so-called “fiscal cliff” situation treats Democratic defense of entitlements and Republican resistance to revenue increases as precisely equivalent, morally and politically. Greedy nursing home residents, greedy multi-millionaries, whatever, it’s all the same, everyone must compromise, right?

While I am not the kind of progressive who believes in placing anything permanently off the table, and have always disliked the tendency to treat every element of the New Deal and Great Society programs as though they came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets–still, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are not just some special interest bauble, and defending their integrity is not equivalent in any way, shape or form with defending one’s promise to Grover Norquist never to raise taxes.

So no, Republicans like Lindsay Graham should not be able to demand Democrats accept his idea of “entitlement reform” (which means benefit cuts) in exchange for agreeing, vaguely, to insist on less than 100% repeal of the Bush tax cut expiration that is in current law. For one thing, if Republicans are going to claim Norquist’s iron grip on the GOP has been broken, they need to explicitly accept the possibility of tax rate increases on the wealthy, not just more revenues via “loophole closing.”

Let’s don’t forget Republicans put themselves in this position to begin with. Those who have been in Congress since 2000 deliberately created a fiscal crisis via tax cuts; lashed themselves to the mast of Norquist’s pledge; and have spent every other minute in front of partisan audiencies demanding much smaller government and entirely regressive taxes. A slight return to sanity is no grounds for celebration by Democrats–much less surrender.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.