Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Those who say both sides are to blame are to blame?

Writing for the WashPost this a.m., Greg Sargent argues that "the false equivalence pundits are part of the problem" with the sequester.

Republican no-new-taxes-though-the-skies-may-fall intransigence is the heart of the problem,  Sargent writes, but mealy mouthed pundits, steeped in the old objectivity norms, can't bring themselves to make this clear.

Perhaps the fact that my previous post on the sequester idiocy (immediately below) was headlined "You can blame whom you want for the sequester crisis" explains why Sargent's argument is so appealing as it enables me to assign blame to both parties plus myself for something that Sargent says is the Repubs' fault. Writes he:

"Analysts reluctant to embrace this conclusion — an affliction I've called the 'centrist dodge' — have adopted several techniques. One is to pretend Dems haven’t offered any compromise solution, when in fact they have. A second is to argue that, okay, Dems have offered a compromise while Republicans haven’t, but Dems haven’t gone far enough towards the middle ground, so both sides are still to blame for the impasse. (The problem with this dodge is that it fails to acknowledge that Republicans themselves have openly stated that there is no distance to which Dems could go to win GOP cooperation, short of giving them everything they want.)

We’re now seeing a third technique appear: Acknowledge that Republicans are the uncompromising party, but assert that it’s ultimately on the President to figure out a way to either force Republicans to drop their intransigence or to otherwise 'lead' them out if it.

His main point is that when one side says, essentially, there's lots of ways we can resolve but we insist that the deal include some new tax revenue, and the other says not one penny of new taxes, it should be clear where lies the intransigence.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

About the Author:

Comments (35)

Let's look at the math

The CBO estimates that the American Tax Relief Act passed in January will raise an additional $364 Billion per year. If the sequestration is only decreasing funding by $110 Billion / year, why are we suprised the GOP doesn't want to give ground on the issue. That's still a 3:1 tax increase to deficit reduction ratio.

Actually, its quite different than that....

The battle was whether to let the Bush tax cuts expire.

And it is interesting to remember that the Bush tax cuts were proposed specifically to avoid the "horrible" possibility of the complete repayment of all federal debt by 2011.

And the effect of the Republican denial of the full expiration of the Bush tax cuts?


.....Revenue provisions would add a total of $3,638 billion to the deficits for the 2013-2022 period, an average of $364 billion per year. The baseline assumed the income tax cuts would expire at all income levels, so only raising income tax rates for higher income taxpayers causes the deficits to rise substantially relative to the baseline....

....The total deficits for the 2013-2022 period would be increased by $3,971 billion relative to the baseline....

(end quote)

Its an upside down world.

The party that is "fiscally responsible" passed tax cuts in 2001 to avert the possibility of paying off the federal debt. Twelve years later, having succeeded in preserving and growing the debt to record levels (that they whine about every day), they bravely renew tax cuts so the debt can have another 20% added to it.


'Sequestration' is not part of anyone's serious cost cutting proposal.
It was specifically designed to be equally unacceptable to everyone, and thus force a discussion.
And the GOP is not debating the ratio between cost cuts and tax increases, since zero is not part of a real ratio. And that's math.

As predicted by everyone with

As predicted by everyone with half a brain, Republicans acceding to tax increases in January did not force Democrats to engage in a discussion about spending cuts in March. Tell me again about intransigence.

Brains! Brains!

I'm not sure what the minimum percentage of brain is required to realize that deep spending cuts in a recession are irresponsible, and would do nothing more than choke further growth. Three-quarters?

I think it may take about 2/3 of a brain to understand that Social Security is expected to be solvent through 2033 and Medicare through 2024. Those are the two big "entitlements" that so scare people and convince them we are on the road to being Greece. There is time enough to deal with those issues once people get back to work.

Half a brain should be enough to realize that the Republicans are being intransigent not because they want to accomplish something. They are behaving like young children who will cry and scream until they get something, anything, that they didn't have before. It doesn't matter if they wanted or needed it, they just want something to show that they can get their way. It's an adult version of a toddler's power struggle.


Insults are the first requirement of arrogance and smugness. The sequestration is about 2 percent over ten years. There is NO decrease, only a slowing of growth. We are going in the hole about 13 thousand dollars a second. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Section 8, etc, all government programs, are broke. Medicare alone takes in one dollar for every three that are spent. If you think what's going on now is severe, wait until the economy collapses. How about understanding this THERE IS NO CUTTING INVOLVED, ONLY A DECREASE IN THE RATE OF GROWTH. We are flying into the ground and picking up speed. Huge, monster actual cuts are needed, right now! Only then do we have a chance, and that will not happen. Borrowing from future generations is immoral. No actual cutting is immoral. Consider this, the head of transportation said flights will be delayed due to shortages of air traffic controllers. This is a lie, he is lying. Their budget goes up this year. Repeat after me, this is a lie and just one of many.

It's math not smugness

We cut taxes because you guys said tax cuts pay for themselves and grow the economy. You created huge deficits because you claimed that deficits don't matter. We all fought you on this, and you all took great pride in defeating us. Contrary to your promises and predictions we ended up with a great recession and a huge deficit that you NOW claim is the biggest problem in America besides abortion and the threat of gay marriage.

And you want US to share the credit for this catastrophe? Government costs whatever it costs regardless of efficiency. You either pay for it with revenue or debt. It's that simple, but you guys live in a magic world where tax cuts magically dematerialize "big" government and expenses. And you call us smug?

In some ways democrats do share some of the blame, Rachel is correct, to the extent that democrats failed to provide effective opposition and overcome republican intransigence I suppose we can blame them. This is actually why I'm not a democrat. But this sequester is a Republican dream come true, and no one can blame Obama with any integrity.

It's math not smugness

Excellent, you covered the territory very well. As the Speak said he got 98% of what he wanted and now he wants to shove it down our collective throats.

"All caps" is always persuasive

The biggest "lie" is the repeated invocation of economic catastrophe if we don't make "huge, monster actual cuts, right now!" The catastrophe will come when we are thrown back into a recession, with no political will or ability to pull ourselves out. Look at Ireland and the UK for examples of the boon austerity has been to recovery.

"Borrowing from future generations is immoral." Leaving aside the very obvious answer to the question of who got that particular ball rolling, I would ask you why it is "moral" to destroy a nascent, but still weak, economic recovery. Why is it "moral" to hold future generations hostage to a parsimony that won't ask the wealthiest taxpayers to pony up ("No, we haven't had good schools or usable roads for some time now. We wanted hedge-fund managers to fly their kids to camp on private jets.")? We aren't "borrowing" form future generations, we're stealing from them.

It's about semantics, not brains

There were no tax increases in January.

What happened in January was the expiration of a set of ("temporary") tax cuts.

Of course, it makes the Republican argument sound better to call them "tax increases", so the Republicans will remain intransigent on this point as well.

Tax Increases

The taxes went up. The 'increased'. That happened. Trying to deny this is clearly an attempt to make the Democratic argument sound better.


A more accurate description is that a temporary tax cut was allowed to expire.
You can call this an increase if you wish, but you will not find any legislation that increased the rate of taxation.

Not quite

That's like draining the bath tub and calling it a water shortage. Or maybe bouncing a ball and calling it levitation. It's like coming off of break at work and calling it a new job. It's all so very upsetting if you insist on ignoring the entire sequence of events or the meaning of "temporary."

Pedor's answer

Actually, Pedor's answer serves as a great example of the Republican intransigence on this particular point.

Not at All

If the taxes had only been lowered for fifteen minutes or so, then these analogies would have some merit. But they were lower for more than ten years. Lots of laws have a built in sunset to them. There is current debate about renewing the Violence Against Women Act. If it isn't renewed, will Dems and liberals simply describe it as a temporary measure that lapsed?
The taxes increased. They did so despite legislation prepared by Republicans to keep them at the lower rates. If the Dems hadn't opposed this, taxes would have stayed where they were. How is any of that controversial?

Taxes were lowered

first during a period of war (de facto if not legal) when most economists agree that taxes should be raised to cover the increased costs (even if they were kept off the official budget).
There's a good case that our current depression (look up the employment figures) is a consequence of that cut.

Not Sure

I'm not sure what point you're trying to make here. The original tax cuts were passed well before any war had started. They were renewed during war. I don't know of any large economic consensus that taxes should be raised during war time. If you have some cites for that, please give them.
I love how the economic conditions shamelessly change depending on the needs of the arguer. Last fall, during the election season, the economy was doing ok. Now we're in a depression! I wonder what will happen next?
The biggest causes of the recession were the popping of the housing bubble, paired with the ongoing Eurozone crisis. You can make a bankshot argument that lower taxes caused more money to be put into housing, I suppose. That seems pretty strained to me, but you could argue it. This argument, by the way, isn't shared by actual studies of the meltdown.


How is any of it controversial?

First, you're talking about two different tax "breaks" and trying to pass it off as the same thing. The one that expired in January is NOT 10 years old. It's 2 years old, and only affected payroll taxes. It was clearly identified as temporary--even called a "tax holiday." The Bush tax cuts have not yet managed to expire, which is too bad. Though, I would concede that that would be an increase in taxes if/when it does happen. At this time, though, yeah, it's ridiculous to claim a tax hike went into effect. Even if I agreed that taxes increased, I would still say "get over it, nothing's free and you benefit from it, too." Being blindsided and upset about the payroll tax going back to its previous levels is like standing on train tracks and being surprised when you get hit by a train.

Second, the last paragraph of your post above is pretty much fiction. Generally, yes, the Democrats have opposed continuing tax breaks for the rich. But it's categorically untrue that they have opposed preventing tax increases, in general. Generally, yes, the GOP wanted to keep taxes at lower rates. But it's blatantly untrue that they prepared anything that would have worked toward a responsible budget, let alone one that they would be able to keep a straight face and say that they even wanted Democrats to take it seriously. If you actually believe what you wrote, I have a bridge to sell you in New York.

Tax Increases

Rachel, the history as I understand it, (and the internet seems to back this up) is that the tax cuts were set to expire in 2010. They were extended two years, so slated to expire at the end of 2012. The GOP did indeed introduce legislation to make them permanent but that was opposed by Dems and went nowhere. A different bill was passed that extended the tax rates only for those making less than $250k. The other taxes went up. Those are the ones I've been talking about.
To be honest, I'd forgotten about the payroll taxes. You're absolutely right about the tax holiday. We were simply talking about different things. My guess is that the original poster was too.

By the way, I like this: "Generally, yes, the GOP wanted to keep taxes at lower rates. But it's blatantly untrue that they prepared anything that would have worked toward a responsible budget, let alone one that they would be able to keep a straight face and say that they even wanted Democrats to take it seriously."
I'd certainly argue that the GOP has worked harder towards a responsible budget. This is an easy argument to make since Dems haven't worked towards having *any* budget over the past few years. To be fair, the Obama admin has sent budgets over to Congress but congressional Dems haven't been able to take them seriously either, since they won't vote for any of them.
You can keep the bridge, I can't afford the taxes on it.

Hung Jury

It reminds me of a jury trying a billionaire. 11 jurors vote to convict but the 12th juror holds out. No matter how the other 11 argue the facts, they can't change the 12th juror's mind. What is not being discussed is that the 12th juror has taken a substantial bribe and has a lot riding on this vote.

Perhaps a whole brain is

Perhaps a whole brain is required to understand that even with the repeal of a portion of the Bush tax cuts, the deficit and debt problem is still severe enough to require both real revenue increases AND spending cuts.

The recent elimination of just a portion of the Bush tax cuts still means that the remaining Bush tax cuts add $364 billion a year to the debt.

As predictied?

The Democrats have been offering spending cuts, and in fact have enacted spending cuts. The Democrats offer years of spending cuts and republicans allow one revenue increase... so we're even? What part of "balanced" approach are we confused about here? The Republican demand for over ten years now has been cuts only. The democrats have been arguing for a combination of cuts and new revenue. The intransigence is obvious.

Both sides ARE responsible

The Republicans are being unreasonable and the Democrats are letting them set the tone of the "discussion." The only person actually effectively calling anyone out is Obama, and as a result, the Republicans are calling it "campaigning." Damn straight. He SHOULD campaign. Bringing Congress to the table hasn't worked, so he's appealing to the People.

That being said, the pundits are being paid to talk, not to provide information, let alone accurate information. If they called the situation as it is, perhaps the situation would actually resolve. And they'd have less talking to do.

Calling the situation as it is

Heck, they can't do that. If they did, they would sound "biased." Heaven forfend!

Of course, no one has yet explained to me why pundits--along among human beings--should have no biases. The media is openly biased in most of the world, and historically US newspapers had explicit partisan leanings (check the listings of newspapers in old Minnesota Legislative Manuals. Even the non-English papers were partisan).

James Fallows also wrote about False Equivalence today

In a twist of irony, he wrote about a Washington Post editorial full of false equivalence after you quote a Washington Post writer complaining about false equivalence.The Post writer quotes and criticizes a number of pundits and journalists but missed his own paper. Here's the link to the Atlantic article:

Who else are we to blame?

How about those of us who let Republicans and Democrats play Kick the Can with the budget?

Did anyone really think these people were smart enough NOT to pull the trigger once they'd put the sequestration gun to their heads?

We're about to see a repeat of Minnesota, circa 2011, wherein the wheels begin to slow and the mice scurry back to their positions to bring it back up to speed, all the time blaming the other side for the slowdown and taking credit for themselves for the comeback.

(Mixed metaphors available in bulk. Call for details.)

Thank you

…Messrs. Rovick, Brandon, Holbrook and Crose, and, as is often the case, Ms. Kahler. In addition, I especially liked Mr. Hamilton’s parenthetical comment…

Kicking the can is a republican specialty

Look at all the Enron accounting tricks republican have deployed to create the illusion of surpluses and "balanced" budgets over the last decade. Democrats always wanted to actually solve the problem but Republicans have been blocking it. We've been watching this since Bush got elected, are supposed to pretend we have amnesia?

"they talk about this Great Recession if it fell out of the sky, like, oh my goodness, where did it come from? It came from this man voting to put two wars in a credit card, to at the same time put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion- dollar tax cut for a -- very wealthy. I was there. I voted against him. I said, no, we can’t afford that. And now all of a sudden these guys are so seized with a concern about the debt that they created"

Joe Biden during his debate with Ryan.

rise the level income of SSI..

collection. It is that simple. You cannot have some described as upper middle class not paying more into that pot. Or maybe those earning over 110,000 per year cannot collect SSI. If someone is middle class at 500 grand then SSI should be paid on the entire amount. As to healthcare get rid of the competive waste between insurers ang go single payer. And for that matter what is with the 9% increase in bonous on Wall Street ? And military spending ? Come on easy.
The basic question is not sequestation but equity ! Will there bew equity or not ?

Good point Joe

I actually never thought of it that way. If we simply extend the social security payroll deduction limit from $106,000 to $150,000 we're done. However, we could go the other way; right now everyone in America get a social security check, THAT means that all those who are making $106,000 or less are subsidizing all the wealthy social security recipients that didn't pay on their much higher salaries. I wonder what the budget looks like if we eliminate "entitlements" for people who made more than say $150,000 a year?

Both of these

have been proposed, but they are much too simple and logical a solution to stand a chance.
The underlying fact is that the GOP is dedicated to protecting the rich -- they are ultimately opposed to ANY form of progressive taxation or social safety net.
The new socialism:
From each according to my need,
To each according to my benefit.

That's a 'social contract' that would be held inequitable by any fair arbiter.


Social Security was not meant to be an automatic entitlement. Nor should it be considered so today. It was meant to be a pool from which those who NEED it can withdraw. The problem is that people who put into it feel that it's a savings account and they're entitled to THEIR money. That's ridiculous. You put it there JUST IN CASE. Someone who spent most of their lives making $100k+ a year should be taking in little or no Social Security when they retire as compared to someone who spends most of their lives making $40k a year. That doesn't mean they should be paying in less, though. Any more than we should be paying fewer taxes so that we don't have to pay for a road that we never personally use. It's called SOCIAL Security, not Individual Security. There are some things that we must pay for as members of society that we simply will never use directly, but that we should do as decent human beings for our fellow human beings, for the security of the society as a whole.

Don't Blame Both Sides?

Fine. Blame the people that think that spending can simply go up and up and up without any regard to a budget. Blame the people who can't figure out how to prioritize what we should be spending money on. Blame the people that want to throw more money at green boondoggles because they think we're in some absurd competition with the Chinese. Blame the people who are enabling the current binge of cronyism in Washington.
Blame the people that knee jerk side with the President and his phantom cuts. Blame the people who believe his patently false scare campaign on the sequester. A big giant scoop of blame for anyone who thinks that our government is so efficient that it can't cut out $80 billion from a nearly $4 trillion budget. And, heaven help us!, blame the people that quote Joe Biden on matters of economy.
Blame the people that want to increase the scope of entitlements. Blame the people that only want tax cuts on the rich. If you want big middle class entitlements (and that's what we have), then you better hit the middle class with those taxes too.
Blame the people who quote economists about not cutting spending during a recession, while at the same time ignoring where economists say you shouldn't raise taxes during a recession. They aren't arguing even a little bit honestly. They're also ignoring history. At least twice in the last century we've cut spending drastically during a recession. Each time was followed by boom times.
Blame the people who treated the emergency stimulus as a new baseline in spending. Blame the people who want to give Obama the credit for the effects of that spending while giving Bush the blame for the dollars spent. They've set up an incredibly adverse situation for future Presidential hand offs.
Blame the people who think that low interest rates now are an excuse to borrow wildly. They learned exactly none of the lessons from the housing bubble. Blame the people that ok'd big public sector pensions, knowing that someone else would have to figure out the huge problem they'd set up in the future.

You want to find people to blame? There are plenty of people who fit the bill.

I think you've found a solution.

I'll pay 1% more if Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Larry Ellison, Charles Koch, David Koch, the Waltons and all the multi-millionaire Wall Street Bankers pay 1 % more.

1% of Sheldon Adelson's income is more than the average middle class taxpayer will make in 100 lifetimes. He spent more than that trying to get Newt and Mitt elected so he wouldn't have to pay more taxes.

There is a real problem with means testing for Social Security

If you set income limitations on it, the right wing will immediately begin campaigning against it as "welfare for people who were too stupid to save for their old age." The wealthy right wingers have always been fine with any government benefits that they themselves are eligible for. Make them ineligible, and suddenly everyone who does quality for Social Security will be "a taker."

As far as the budget deficit is concerned, the two prime indicators of the Republicans' and conservative Democrats' insincerity in this regard are their insistence that rich people shouldn't have to pay more taxes but poor people should pay more, and their willful blindness to the costs of America's war machine, especially the Iraq and Afghanistan wars fought almost entirely on borrowed money.

They'll rage about "out-of-control government spending" out of one side of their mouths and advocate more money for "defense" out of the other side.

But anything that helps people? That's "out-of-control government spending," and they combat it with vicious stereotypes about "people spending their whole lives on welfare" or "buying steak with food stamps" or "popping out one kid after another to get a more generous benefit" or "driving a Cadillac to the liquor store."