Is That All You Got?

July 12, 2011 6:12 a.m.

Give me a minute to sketch out for you the current state of negotiations on raising the debt ceiling, courtesy of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who spoke yesterday with our Brian Beutler. It’s worth your while.

Republicans are insisting that any deal must include spending cuts equal to the additional borrowing authority they grant in raising the debt ceiling. How much is that in dollars? Well, it depends on how much you raise the debt limit.

President Obama wants to raise the debt ceiling enough to give the federal government breathing room into 2013, that way he doesn’t have to face this issue again before the 2012 election. When you do the math, or more precisely when the budget wizards do the math, it turns out you need about a little more than $2 trillion increase in the debt ceiling to last until 2013. So that’s how much in spending cuts Republicans are demanding: a bit north of $2 trillion.

With me so far? Good, because here’s the rich, hair-pulling, you-got-to-be-kidding-me part:When the parties sat down yesterday at the White House for another round of hashing out a deal, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) laid out the spending cuts House Republicans hammered out in earlier failed talks with Vice President Joe Biden aimed at a grand bargain on the long-term budget. Now set aside that there’s an open question as to whether Democrats ever did or ever would agree to those cuts Cantor laid out. And set aside that the deal Cantor is proposing doesn’t offer any compromise to Democrats on the tax side (it’s still spending cuts only).

Set all that aside and guess what?

Cantor’s own numbers don’t add up to $2 trillion!

Let me say that again.

Cantor was unable to put on the negotiating table a list of $2 trillion in spending cuts Republicans would propose that have any chance of passing.

That about sums up where we are at this stage of this ridiculous Kabuki theater. Republicans are taking the country to the brink of default demanding spending cuts that will signify their commitment to fiscal responsibility, smaller government and austerity — but for reasons that are political in the macro and micro sense, they can’t come up with a list of cuts that actually gets the job done. It’s not that they can’t do the math. Believe me.

So the question today for House Republicans and everyone else involved in these so-called negotiations — the questions our reporters will be asking — is why can’t they come up with $2 trillion in spending cuts. And if they can, show them to us.

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