The Education Of Ezra Klein
Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein is crazy smart, and runs a good place over at Wonkblog. But he’s always been one of those “high-INT/low-WIS” types who doesn’t always see the forest for the trees when it comes to Republicans. This weekend however , he finally removes the scales from his eyes about the way the GOP operates, and to his credit, admits he’s been played:
My column this weekend is about the almost comically poor lines of communication between the White House and the Hill. The opening anecdote was drawn from a background briefing I attended with a respected Republican legislator who thought it would be a gamechanger for President Obama to say he’d be open to chained CPI — a policy that cuts Social Security benefits — as part of a budget deal.
The only problem? Obama has said he’s open to chained CPI as part of a budget deal. And this isn’t one of those times where the admission was in private, and we’re going off of news reports. It’s right there on his Web site. It’s literally in bold type. But key GOP legislators have no idea Obama’s made that concession.
If Obama could get hold of Klein’s mystery legislator and inform him of his budget offer, it almost certainly wouldn’t make a difference. He would come up with something – the cuts aren’t real, or the taxes are awful, or they can’t trust Obama to carry them out, or something.
At this point (as Booman notes), a Twitter exchange between NYT reporter John Harwood and GOP strategist Mike Murphy illuminates young Ezra.
And then GOP consultant Mike Murphy told Time magazine that Obama could get a deal if he uttered the six magic words, “Some beneficiaries pay more and chained CPI.”
When John Harwood noted on Twitter that Murphy seemed unaware that Obama had already offered both of those items, Murphy responded. At first, Murphy insisted that only means-testing had been offered. When corrected, he followed Chait’s prediction to a ‘T.’
1. (Chait: “the cuts aren’t real”) Murphy: “his CCPI offer is small beans gimmick.”
2. (Chait: “the taxes are awful”) Murphy: the CCPI offer is conditional on “big new revenue.”
3. (Chait: “they can’t trust Obama to carry them out”) Murphy retweets a Twitter comment from someone who was listening in to the conversation: “R’s also don’t trust him, and there’s a history to justify this mistrust.”
As Ezra points out, Mike Murphy is not a fire-breather. He’s very much a moderate Republican circa 1990.
No matter what Harwood said when pointing out President Obama is the one compromising here, and has publicly made the exact offers the GOP claims he refuses to make, Murphy rejected those offers as “unserious” or “untrustworthy.” And it finally dawns on Ezra that all Republicans are behaving this way.
This had led to a lot of Republicans fanning out to explain what the president should be offering if he was serious about making a deal. Then, when it turns out that the president did offer those items, there’s more furious hand-waving about how no, actually, this is what the president needs to offer to make a deal. Then, when it turns out he’s offered most of that, too, the hand-waving stops and the truth comes out: Republicans won’t make a deal that includes further taxes, they just want to get the White House to implement their agenda in return for nothing. Luckily for them, most of the time, the conversation doesn’t get that far, and the initial comments that the president needs to “get serious” on entitlements is met with sage nods.
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