Boehner’s Shutdown Fallback Plan Is Doomed

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 05: Protesters carry a pinata effigy of Republican House Speaker John Boehner at a National Day of Dignity and Respect march on October 5, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

There’s a lot of amazing stuff about John Boehner’s state of mind in the latest update from Jonathan Weisman and Ashley Parker, but the economic policy substance comes at the end where they describe Boehner’s fallback alternative to keeping the government closed until the Affordable Care Act is repealed:

Representative Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican close to Mr. Boehner, said he believed that the speaker would like to see a deal that included a new way of calculating inflation that would slow the growth of federal benefits; a means testing for Medicare, as well as some other Medicare savings; and at least some slight changes to the Affordable Care Act, like a repeal of a medical device tax unpopular with some Democrats.

This is history repeating itself as farce. The advantage of these demands, is that while Barack Obama is obviously not going to agree to repeal ObamaCare, it’s well known that his team is open to these kind of cuts in Social Security and Medicare. It’s well-known because these parameters have been discussed endlessly as part of the Simpson-Bowles process, as part of the 2011 debt ceiling negotiations, as part of the supercommittee, and as part of the fiscal cliff. What’s equally well-known is Obama’s price—higher taxes.

That isn’t just some random demand. It goes to the core of the administration’s thinking about the entitlement issue. Larry Summers is hardly the most left-wing Democrat in America, and he told Adam Davidson that Social Security and Medicare are some of the best things about America. These are programs Obama is willing to cut for the sake of improving America’s long-term fiscal sustainability, but not for the sake of creating more budgetary headroom for another round of Reagan/Bush tax cutting. Including not only higher taxes but Republican votes for higher taxes is the key to making that vision work. You can like this logic or you can reject it. But from The Audacity of Hope through the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns and eleventy-million rounds of grand bargaineering it’s been Obama’s policy. If Boehner wants these cuts in Social Security and Medicare spending he knows what he needs to deliver. He also knows that he can’t deliver it. And Democrats know he can’t deliver it. And he knows that they know it. So why are we even talking about this?