The Last Word | February 25, 2013
>>> i stand by those commitments, to make the reforms for smart spending cuts. but we also need republicans to adopt the same approach to tax reform as speaker boehner championed just two months ago.
>> the president says we have to have another tax increase in order to avoid the sequester. well, mr. president, you got your tax increase. it is time to cut spending here in washington.
>> i don't understand this debate. i don't understand the republican position on the sequester. and i don't mean the politics and the polls. we already talked about the polling doesn't seem to look so good for the republicans . what matters more than that, the puzzling, underlying position, the policy doesn't make a lot of sense given their budget goals. as i understand it, republicans have five basic goals, number one, they say is cut the deficit. number two, cut entitlement spending. number three, protect defense spending and possibly even increase it. four, make the tax code simple by cleaning out deductions and loopholes. and five, five of course is always lower tax rates . now, the white house is able to cut a deal with republicans that accomplish one, two, three, four, it wouldn't lower tax rates but it will do all the other things. republicans won't entertain that deal. they say no, no, we prefer the sequester instead of one, two, three, and four. they get much less than a larger deal, they won't touch entitlement spending really at all. they will see defense spending go through an incredibly big cut. rather than striking a deal with the white house and accomplish four of their five, they're accomplishing part of one, one, and badly hurting another for a net zero ? so what exactly is the republican policy strategy here? what am i missing? here to answer that is ben dominic, the editor of "the conservative morning news letter." great to have you.
>> i think what you're missing is a number. and i think that number is 158, which is the number of house republicans who have shown up since 2006 out of 232 today. and of those republicans , i think if you look at what is priority for them, their priority list actually doesn't include number three, the defense spending , which goes back to the calculation that the president made when the whole process started. which is an assumption i think founded previously from the previous decade, from a lot of republicans that currently occupy leadership. which is basically the republicans who are interested in defending defense spending . who have been preaching for the past several years how important it was to protect that, to isolate it away from any cuts. and those republicans , while they still occupy the leadership and still hold positions of power don't necessarily represent the base, for whom the financial crisis is really their equivalent of 9/11 now. really the single way they analyze policy.
>> i buy that the new generation of republicans don't care that much about defense spending , i think you're right about that. but going back to the sequester.
>> that leaves one, two, three, and four, there is no doubt you can get more deficit reduction, total money shaved off the deficit if you go to the bigger deal and include tax increases. there is no doubt the two sides can come together, the offer, 1.8 trillion, is significantly larger than what is in the sequester alone. and then second to that, they also believe very strongly, the key is entitlement spending, not all spending is created equal. the medicare, social security spending, the white house would be able to get into those programs. but they are not without going outside of the boundaries of the sequester. so what about the rest of that?
>> the problem is you have to have an assumption of competence on the conservative base, the republicans as a whole, when it comes time to negotiate with the white house they will come out with a better deal. and i think that frankly the base believes they're not capable of doing such a thing, they have their doubts about the ability of republicans to negotiate any better situation. and i think the second part of this, they are skeptical on the part of the base right now, about the willingness of republicans to cut in any real sense. and any negotiation that backs off from the sequester, would, i think, be read as a retreat from cuts, retreat from being willing to reduce to size and scope of government. because of that, there is an unwiliness with the house and leadership of the republican party to do anything along those lines, because that will be sold as a retreat to be really fiscally conservative . we saw that under george w. bush , laying the seeds of the tea party .
>> but wasn't what happened in the previous decade, they made a bunch of decisions around spending because they wouldn't touch taxes, and blew up the deficit, that was at least part of the narrative. underneath that is the other question, when they are looking at a deal like this and saying we don't believe that our leadership can come to a better deal, they don't have to undo the sequester until a deal is done. it just seems to me, underneath all this is the weird decision to treat all spending in the tax code as a tax increase and not be willing to break this pledge.
>> but ezra, is your problem is that the sequester exists or is it just what tthat the cuts are not smart enough? i think in the conservative base, they don't buy the difference between the smart cuts and the dumb cuts, i don't think they see it as being all that critical, especially when it is sort of the question is the world going to collapse if we rewind to what government spending was going to be at the beginning of the month? i think it is more on the question of the leadership in the republican party and their conservative base, understanding if they retreat in any way, if their view is retreating in any way from holding the line on spending cuts from this nature, even if they are stupid, in the parlance of washington, then i think they will be viewed as being cowardly, saying they don't want government to be as big as the president does.
>> if you're right that the house republicans don't believe anymore in the smart cuts and dumb cuts, that is scary.