GOPs need one (1) symbolic victory

Mickey Kaus Columnist
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In all the earnest talk about “shared sacrifice” and tax/GDP ratios, let’s not forget cheap PR. … What if Republicans (like some analysts) are convinced that a stronger economic recovery–maybe even a boomlet–is around the corner? What they don’t want to happen is for President Obama and the Democrats to get all the credit. But that’s exactly what’s likely to happen if the deal involves only a hike in high-end taxes and some vague, obscure budget cuts–if it looks, in other words, like the Republicans merely negotiated for a moderation of Obama’s plans.

GOPs need at least one signature fiscal-cliff achievement–a conspicuous change they can say they forced Obama into accepting, that they can then with a straight face claim led to the boom of 2013 should such a thing actually occur. The obvious candidate is some long-range change in Social Security or Medicare that Obama and his party don’t like. Fiddling with the cost-of-living formula (a change Obama has now accepted) seems too obscure. Raising the Medicare eligibility age seems too risky (what if Obamacare really isn’t there for future 65 and 66 year olds)? I’d nominate these possible Symbolic GOP Victories: 1) raising the Social Security (not Medicare) eligibility age for future retirees, on some gradual schedule; 2) reducing Social Security for the most-well-off recipients, and asking those well-off seniors to pay more for Medicare (“means-testing,” in policy language). …

This arrangement wouldn’t entirely be PR, of course–to the extent it accurately sent a signal that we were getting our entitlements under control, it would constitute real progress. But the PR part is key, since that’s what would allow Republicans to share in the credit for a post-deal boom.

For the PR part to work,  though, Dems need to kick, scream and complain loudly. The more Obama and his caucus froth, the more they are likely to get a deal, since by frothing they give Boehner and the GOPs their bragging point for the recovery–“See, we forced the Dems to accept X, and the economy took off.” One worry is that Dems are actually no longer upset with Medicare means-testing. And Obama may actually be fine with all these syymbolic changes. If so, I hope he keeps quiet about it. The danger is that he’ll burnish his rep by embracing these statesmanlike positions which he supports rather than denouncing them. That would defeat the purpose of giving GOPs sole ownership of at least part of the deal (and a chance to claim boom glory).

The centrist Washington cliche–that all parties have to hold hands and jump together–seems counterproductive in this situation. A deal will serve everyone’s interest more effectively (and therefore be more likely to get done) if it’s marked by ongoing acrimony and recrimination, with each side conspicuously hating part of it.

Let’s hope the two parties aren’t too close together to make that kind of bargain. …

Mickey Kaus