Epistemic Closure Watch
The Fiscal Cliff: Project Syndicate

Can't Any Republicans Play This Game?

Ezra Klein looks at the dirigible explosion in bemusement:

The GOP’s Medicare confusion: The austerity crisis talks have hit a peculiar impasse. The problem isn’t, as most analysts expected, taxes…. And the particular Medicare problem isn’t that Democrats are refusing the GOP’s proposed Medicare cuts. It’s that Republicans are refusing to name their Medicare cuts.

Politico quotes a “top Democratic official” who paints the picture simply: “Rob Nabors [the White House negotiator], has been saying: ‘This is what we want on revenues on the down payment. What’s your guys’ ask on the entitlement side?’ And they keep looking back at us and saying: ‘We want you to come up with that and pitch us.’ That’s not going to happen.”…

The fact is that… Republicans simply don’t know what they want to do on Medicare. Scour the various outlets for Democratic policy ideas and you’ll find plenty of proposed Medicare cuts…. If you dig deep into the Republican think tank world… the most serious plan I found came tucking inside the American Enterprise Institute’s contribution to the Peterson Institute’s 2011 Fiscal Summit… simplifying and enlarging the deductible, instituting a 20 percent co-insurance rate, introducing a “premium surcharge” for seniors who use supplemental insurance, and giving physicians more discretion in setting their prices. But… no leading Republican politician has endorsed them, perhaps because doing so would be tantamount to suicide.

That’s left Republicans in a peculiar negotiating position: They know they want “Medicare reform” — indeed, they frequently identify Medicare reform as the key to their support for a deal — but… 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….

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…