07/15/2011 09:05 am ET Updated Sep 14, 2011

We're All Ears, Mr. President

I'm getting whiplash trying to follow all the twists and turns in the debt ceiling/budget showdown as each day brings a new lurch in policy.

A big plan...a grand bargain! -- a small plan... clean McConnell (i.e., Mitch McConnell's "you're on your own, Mr. President")... dirty McConnell (not a pleasant image, I know... read on).

To get organized regarding what's transpired over the past few weeks along one dimension -- the share of revenues and spending cuts in the various deals -- I made the graphic below.


Source: My memory...

Here's what stands out to me:

  • Keep in mind the historical context: in the last four major deficit reduction plans, revenues were between about 40% and 80% of the deals (and the 80% was President Reagan's Deficit Reduction Act, 1984!).
  • The president started out where the Fiscal Commission was,2 of spending cuts to1 of revenue (and1 in lower interest payments excluded from the bars-4 trillion total over 12 years).
  • A couple of the plans were 50/50.
  • The President has consistently and dramatically moved toward the Republican demand to lose the revenues.

His 2/3, 1/3 got whittled down to the point where conservative columnist David Brooks called this "the deal of the century" for the Republicans: "trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases."

And still they would not budge.

Now, rumor has it, he's offered a new deal: drop your dollar-for-dollar demand that deficit savings equate to the dollar increase in the ceiling, and I'll lose the revenues (this is "dirty McConnell" -- under the clean version, the R's get to keep their fingerprints (i.e., votes) off of the debt ceiling increase, but the spending cuts are non-binding... under this version, they're binding).

And still they would not budge.

As I've said from the very beginning, there is no negotiation here. One side is bending over backwards... too much so, if that last bar is correct... to avoid default and make a dent in the deficit. The other side is checked out.

Those who've read my work know that I deeply fear the wholly and easily avoided consequences of failing to raise the debt ceiling. I've not even entertained the possibility because I can't believe it could happen -- that elected officials could so dramatically abrogate their responsibilities. And I still don't think we'll default.

But let's get real here. You cannot negotiate with people who refuse to do so. In that case, with the stakes this high, you have to call them out and, as the president allegedly said, "take the case to the American people."

Take it to us, sir. We're all ears.

This post originally appeared at Jared Bernstein's On The Economy blog.

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