Democrats have painted themselves into a box with their Mediscare tactics. Because they spent the last two years frightening seniors with tales of Republicans taking away their benefits and “ending Medicare as we know it,” the left-hand side of the aisle has effectively eliminated the possibility of negotiating changes to this broken program essential to any true resolution of the looming budgetary and tax disaster.
House Speaker John A. Boehner told reporters Thursday that he was disappointed in the progress on “fiscal cliff” negotiations. There have been no substantive talks between congressional leaders and the White House since their first meeting two weeks ago. The Ohio Republican blames the impasse on the other side’s refusal to do anything other than demand tax increases.
“We’ve put real concessions on the line by putting revenues on the table right upfront,” Mr. Boehner explained. “Unfortunately, many Democrats continue to rule out sensible spending cuts that must be part of any significant agreement that will reduce our deficit.” Without a serious discussion of trimming Uncle Sam’s outlays, GOP leaders say no deal is possible.
A few minutes later, on the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid held his own news conference to blame the GOP for not coming forward with an alternative tax-hike plan. He was asked twice about what sort of entitlement reform his caucus might accept. Both times, the Nevada Democrat refused to answer. When questioned about the disconnect with what Mr. Boehner said about the necessity, Mr. Reid merely said, “I don’t understand his brain, so you should ask him.”
The Democratic strategy is to decouple the grand bargain plan so spending cuts necessary for the sequestration wouldn’t be tied to the expiring George W. Bush tax rates. The endgame is to get the Republicans to fold on tax increases before Jan. 1 and ignore all the necessary spending reductions.
Instead of cuts, Mr. Reid is looking to bust the budget with a supplemental bill to send billions to the states affected by Hurricane Sandy. Mr. Reid’s No. 2, Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, openly admitted Wednesday that entitlement reform should not even be on the table during the talks, despite the speaker’s insistence to the contrary.
The reason there is a fiscal-cliff crisis is the nation is $16.3 trillion in debt, with about $10 billion more being borrowed every day. We are about to hit the debt ceiling, the legal limit for the government’s borrowing ability. Meanwhile, half the fiscal cliff requires Congress and the president to come up with reductions of $110 billion by January to pay off part of the borrowing that has been done since the last debt-limit increase.
As the biggest driver of the federal debt, Medicare has to be on the table. It just isn’t possible to cut discretionary outlays or raise taxes high enough to reach anywhere near budgetary balance. Mr. Obama and friends are trying to get out of their jam by ramming through tax increases now and giving the GOP vague promises that they’ll do spending cuts and entitlement reform next year. Republicans have made this mistake in the past. They should know better than to get snookered again.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.