‘It didn’t add up’

When the participants in the debt-reduction talks met yesterday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) reportedly focused on the progress made during the Biden-led talks. Those, of course, are the same talks Cantor abandoned the moment Vice President Biden broached the subject of Republicans accepting some kind of compromise.

Nevertheless, as Cantor sees it, Dems in the Biden-led talks had already agreed to so many cuts, Republicans were nearly satisfied. Democrats don’t seem to agree — Dems believe there was a consensus for roughly $1.5 trillion in savings over the next decade, but that figure was contingent upon GOP leaders accepting some additional revenue.

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), one of the eight lawmakers at the negotiating table, told Brian Beutler yesterday that the gap between the two isn’t closing.

Cantor and Speaker John Boehner say they won’t raise the debt limit by a single dollar more than the group agrees to cut over a decade. But Obama insists that the deal must extend it into 2013 — a hike that amounts to over $2 trillion in new borrowing authority. They’re still miles from that goal.

“It didn’t add up,” Durbin said. “It doesn’t add up to enough. When Cantor puts all of the things brought up in the Biden conversation on the table, it doesn’t add up to the dollar amount that the Republicans are insisting on. Cantor had his chance, put it out there. And it wasn’t as if they were agreed to. Many things there that were clearly not agreed to, but even allowing for that possibility, it didn’t add up.”

This gave me a stupid idea, which I suspect no one will like. But what they hey, I’ll throw it out there anyway and invite the ridicule.

The goal, at this point, is to reach a debt-reduction package that totals more than $2 trillion over 10 years. The problem is that Republicans want 100% of the package to be made up of cuts, and Democrats expect at least some of the total to come from new revenue. Dems want a compromise and the GOP doesn’t.

But the target is itself arbitrary, and created by Republicans with no policy rationale. The debt-reduction package could, in fact, be zero. For generations, it has been zero.

The sticking point now is the GOP’s refusal to compromise on revenue. But what if they were willing to compromise instead on the target?

In other words, let’s say Democrats and Republicans could agree to, say, $1.2 trillion in debt reduction over the next decade, and all of it came from spending cuts. That won’t work because GOP leaders are saying the total package has to be nearly double this figure, and Democratic leaders are saying the package must have some new revenue.

But what if Republicans said they’d drop the target to $1.2 trillion if Democrats drop the demand for revenue? If the two sides can agree on $1.2 trillion in cuts, why not make that the deal, raise the debt ceiling, and fight tooth and nail over revenue when the tax cuts are set to expire next year?

Durbin said Cantor’s numbers didn’t add up because they didn’t reach the Republican target. That’s true. But Republicans can change their target whenever they want. Why don’t they?