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A “grand bargain,” Burns and Allen style

The White House reportedly is interested in a “grand bargain” with Republicans as a means of avoiding the sequester and getting out from under the debt-ceiling. The bargain would involve raising revenue by ending or limiting certain deductions and cutting some spending, or at least pretending to.

The White House’s strategy sounds like a variation on a very old George Burns and Gracie Allen routine. George holds four cigars and tells Gracie that, because they are married, half of everything he owns is hers. Whereupon he hands his wife two of the four cigars. He then adds that, of course, half of everything she owns is his, and takes one of the cigars back.

In the modern version of this routine, Obama took two of the Republicans’ cigars during the fiscal cliff negotiations. Now he plans to divide up the Republicans’ remaining two cigars equally, if the Republicans are lucky.

As Obama himself put it, he gets hundreds of billions of dollars in new tax revenue “for free.” That’s not exactly grand, but it’s a helluva bargain for the Democrats.

The Republicans should insist on spending cuts with no revenue increase in exchange for avoiding the sequester. Only if that occurs will the “fiscal cliff” cigars be evenly divided.

However, it would probablly take a “bargain” to obtain entitlement reform, and such a bargain would probably be on Obama’s terms. I don’t think Republicans can force entitlement reform through a battle over the debt-ceiling limit. Just as they blinked on New Year’s Day, they likely will blink again before sending the U.S. into default as a response to the Democrats’ politically popular defense of the Medicare and Social Security status quo.

JOHN adds: A better mathematician than me could figure this out for sure, but haven’t George and Gracie unwittingly discovered Zeno’s paradox? Unless I am mistaken, no matter how many times they go back and forth, the cigars will never again be divided equally. Maybe there is a lesson there. (I am assuming they start cutting cigars into pieces.)

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