Ezra Klein notes the "peculiar impasse" in the negotiations to veer away from the apocalypse Armageddon cataclysm annihilation very-scary-sounding-thingy fiscal cliff: Republicans would agree to revenue if Democrats would just agree too... uh...
They know they want “Medicare reform” — indeed, they frequently identify Medicare reform as the key to their support for a deal — but aside from premium support, they don’t quite know what they mean by it, and they’re afraid to find out.
The solution they’ve come up with, such as it is, is to insist that the Obama administration needs to be the one to propose Medicare cuts. “We accepted this meeting with the expectation that the White House team will bring a specific plan for real spending cuts — because spending cuts that Washington Democrats will accept is what is missing from the balanced approach that the president says he wants,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in regard to the most recent round of talks.
Democrats find this flatly ridiculous: Given that the Obama administration would happily raise taxes without cutting Medicare but that Republicans will only raise taxes if we cut Medicare, it falls on the Republicans to name their price. But behind their negotiating posture is a troubling policy reality: They don’t know what that price is.
Fear of political costs for unpopular, but necessary -- you believe -- policy isn't a political novelty (especially if you've convinced your entire base to take leave of the real world). But I think this gives the Republicans too much credit in this particular self-created predicament. This assumes they have specific ideas they believe make good policy and just don't want to own them alone. It assumes they've thought this one through beyond an ideological hatred for Medicare and the safety net at large, success of the program(s) be damned. Sherrod Brown said it best in 2003:
[Privatization] has really been the thrust. From President Bush to the gentleman from California (Mr. Thomas) to Speaker Gingrich a few years ago, to back in 1965, Republicans really wanted this system turned over to the insurance companies. Privatize Medicare and give it to the insurance industry. Go back to 1965, out of roughly 200 Republican Members of the House and Senate, only 23 voted for the creation of Medicare. Gerald Ford in 1965, a future President, voted against it. Congressman Dole, future Senator Dole, Republican Presidential candidate, voted against it. Senator Strom Thurmond voted against the creation of Medicare. Congressman Donald Rumsfeld in 1965, later Secretary of Defense and the architect of this plan, I put in quotation marks, of the rebuilding of Iraq, voted against the creation of Medicare.
Then in 1995, the first time Republicans had an opportunity to do something about Medicare, the Republicans under Speaker Gingrich tried to cut it by $270 billion in order to give a tax cut to the most privileged Americans, the same old story. Speaker Gingrich said in October 1995 that he hoped Medicare would wither on the vine.
Republicans don't find themselves without a specific demand because Vouchercare isn't on the table, they are in this bind because Vouchercare was only popular with Republicans primarily as a gateway to privatization.
I find it hard to believe the same party that successfully sold trickle-down economics for 3+ decades with little push back from Democrats, or managed to get the very tax cuts being debated now on the table then (as a job creator, no less) is suddenly too timid to bullshit the American populace into getting behind they're latest proposal. No. They would praise the genius of toddler's finger painting if they thought the public would buy it. The reason Republicans can't make a specific demand now with the White House bluntly asking them to name their price is simple: they haven't considered it much.
Reform is the white wash, overblown fears of fiscal solvency the excuse, and privatization the thrust. But the goal has always been an end to the social safety net.
Not something you admit to outside of the country club, even if it is the President asking.