Whats On the Table

In case you were wondering what’s “on the table” in the phony baloney debt ceiling “negotiations” this is what the Wall Street Journal is reporting today. I would take it with a grain of salt — these kinds of leaks are almost surely self-serving:

People familiar with the negotiations led by Mr. Biden say they are looking at cuts to agriculture subsidies and federal retirement programs, stepped-up antifraud efforts, increased premiums for pension plans backed by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and the sale of wireless spectrum and government properties.

The talks are at an early stage and potential areas of agreement are preliminary, officials warn. But Democrats have not ruled out some thorny issues, according to people familiar with the negotiations, including reforms to the pension program for federal workers.

The areas being examined amount to a sliver of the $4 trillion goal officials have set for deficit reduction over the next 10 years.

And taxes remain a roadblock. Republican leaders say tax increases can’t be part of any deficit plan, but White House officials have said any plan must include revenue increases.

As I said, who knows what his means? It could be some Republican blowing smoke. But if the outlines are for real I’m trying hard to see what Republican “constituency” — if one defines a constituency as being made up of actual human beings who vote as opposed to donors — are being hurt here. Agribusiness, Telecoms and criminals could be hit (but they’re Democratic donors as well, so I don’t think that counts.) The only real people who are on that sacrificial alter are public employees. That would be bagging a very big Dem constituency for the GOP. Weakening them is one of their big goals for this cycle, so it will be quite a win if they pull it off. Let’s hope that’s just wishful thinking from the Republicans.

But remember — this entire negotiation is kabuki. Both parties know that there will be no default. This is just an exercise in budget cutting for the sake of budget cutting and nobody is “forced” to agree to anything.

Also important to recognize, as Krugman says in his column today, that this hostage taking pattern is only going to escalate. Since the debt ceiling was a phony threat to begin with it might have been a good place for the Democrats to take stand. They literally had nothing to lose.

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