Obama to Republicans: my offer is this, nothing

Tim Geithner presented John Boehner with the Obama plan for averting the “fiscal cliff.” According to the New York Times, Obama’s plan calls for $1.6 trillion in tax increases over 10 years, $50 billion in immediate stimulus spending, home mortgage refinancing, and a permanent end to Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits. President Obama would also agree to a goal of finding $400 billion in savings from Medicare and other social programs to be worked out next year, but with no guarantees.

In other words, to quote Michael Corleone, “My offer is this, nothing. Not even the money for the gaming license, which I would appreciate if you would put up personally.”

Even Times reporter Jonathan Weisman seemed taken aback by the White House’s position. He described the offer as “loaded with Democratic priorities and short on detailed spending cuts.” As far as I can tell, however, there are no detailed spending cuts. Obama did propose some upfront cuts in programs like farm price supports but, according to Weisman, did not specify an amount or any details.

The decision to present this absurdly one-sided proposal comes straight from the Obama playbook. Recall that the president has presented budgets so ridiculous that they could not garner even one Democratic vote in Congress. Republicans then presented detailed budgets that, unlike the president’s, actually address the debt crisis. Obama responding by demagoguing the Republican cuts.

Republicans shouldn’t play this game again. They should tell the White House to eliminate the stimulus spending and the proposal to end Congressional control over statutory borrowing limits, and to propose detailed and significant spending cuts. If the White House declines to do so, Republicans should walk away.

Walking away would send us over the “fiscal cliff,” assuming there is no last minute “standstill” type agreement. And Republicans may absorb some, or perhaps even most, of the blame for the adverse economic consequences that result. But on the current state of play, Republicans have a shot at avoiding much of the blame. Obama ran on a “balanced” approach to dealing with the debt. Republicans should feel fairly comfortable about defending the proposition that Obama’s offer isn’t balanced.

After all, even the New York Times recognizes that it isn’t.

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