Jonathan Chait's attempt to villainize Obama runs afoul of reality

Now that President Obama's economic policies are bearing fruit, Republicans are in disarray, latching onto everything that moves, it seems, to try to claw the president's ratings down. But Republicans aren't the only ones. Barely a weekend had gone by after my warning to the Left on account of the demise of the Tea Party when Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine - I guess his new employer's colors are all over him now - dug up a new reason to beat up on President Obama from a nearly-year-old fight over the debt ceiling. Chait follows - actually, he mutilates, mangles and lies about - a Washington Post narrative on the behind-the-scenes of the debt ceiling negotiations between the President and Speaker Boehner to affirm the dumbest theory in history: that President Obama tried to sell out liberalism.

Chait's theory, and his... well, anal-ysis revolves around a  few central, mind-numbingly he-thinks-his-readers-are-dumber-than-Sarah-Palin tenets: taking GOP account of the debt limit fight as unassailable, cherrypicking "facts" he likes from the Washington Post account, even when the account itself disputes it, and the logical fallacy of assuming A to prove A. Or in Chait's case, to prove the thesis that Obama is a sell-out, you begin with the assumption that Obama is a sellout.

Here's what Chait is having a couple of blood veins in his head popped by: that according to the Washington Post account, President Obama was working with Boehner on a deal that would have $800 billion in revenue increases through tax reform - eliminating loopholes while reducing the overall rates. Boehner and his aides wanted to count funny money, though. They simply wanted to count additional revenue from economic growth they claim would be generated by tax cuts on the wealthy. Although the Post account is abundantly clear that Obama and his aides at best laughed at that idea, Chait jumps at this as Obama's sell-out. Quoting the post report about the GOP's funny money demands, Chait writes,
Okay, so the Republicans were demanding big tax cuts for the rich — lower income tax rates, and keeping in place the tax breaks that most benefit the rich, thereby insuring that the burden of any higher revenue would fall on the non-rich. Obama, incredibly, agreed to that — he agreed to a debt reduction plan that would exempt the wealthy from any sacrifice, and indeed protect them from the possibility that their tax rates would rise when the Bush tax cuts expire.
Well, let's go on to the Post report now, and see just what it says about whether or not the President "agreed to that." You see, John Boehner's chief of staff said that Sec. Geithner accepted the funny money premise. The president's aides, however, had this to say.
Geithner and other administration officials say it never happened. They strenuously deny agreeing to count revenue from economic growth, a process known as “dynamic scoring.”

Treasury spokeswoman Jenni LeCompte said the Republicans “were kidding themselves” if they thought the White House would concede that point. “That’s always been a total non-starter for Secretary Geithner and this administration and always will be,” she said.
But hey, why bother with the facts when you have a perfectly good-selling narrative? In fairness, Chait does in passing acknowledge the existence of this dispute, but he does not lend any credence to it. Why not? Because in this instance, the story from Boehner's aide fits Chait's narrative better than the president's version of what happened. What's interesting is that a self-proclaimed defender of liberalism such as Jon Chait would choose to assign greater credibility to John Boehner than to the Obama administration. Because there is no brighter sign of the True Left (TM) than their unquestioning trust in the honesty of Republicans.

About half of Chait's drivel against President Obama in this piece centers around this hypothesis that the president and his team, desperate to make a deal, was willing to accept funny money. The other half of his insanity revolves around one additional myth: that an original behind-the-scenes agreement, on Sunday, July 17, when both sides thought they were close to an agreement and were upbeat, included cuts to Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare while protecting and expanding tax breaks for the rich. These two halves completed the Professional Left wet fantasy: Obama's willingness to screw with the social safety net, while the funny money would just be for show. It completes the Obama-is-evil circle by offering ironclad proof that Obama was always out to get the social safety nets.

The reality, though, is very different from this wet-dreamworld of Chait's. In truth, first, the president never gave the Republicans anything even remotely close to the rich being able to keep their tax breaks should a deal have been reached. In fact, the tax reform that would lower overall rates would be modeled on the Simpson-Bowles plan (though not exactly copy), which actually recommended eliminating the tax favorability for capital gains (money from money) income.

Second, the reality is that the president's team not only laughed Boehner's funny money out of town, they also demanded further revenue increases for the grand bargain to be put together and for it to include the changes in Social Security and Medicare. According to the Post, only Republicans said that the president agreed to the Social Security and Medicare deals with $800 billion in revenue; the president's team never actually conceded this point. In fact, when the president ultimately asked for an additional $400 billion in revenue in order to make the modifications in Social Security and Medicare, Republican aides describe John Boehner complaining that Obama had violated a "gentlemen's agreement." In other words, nothing was ever pinned down or put down on paper in terms of what and whether revenue increases - in addition to that first $800 billion - would be required from the president's side in order for the grand bargain to work. The best case scenario for them is that they had wishfully assumed that it did, and that they were wrong.

The agency cuts of $1.2 trillion were predicated on the $800 billion in revenue increases, and the President had agreed to deal with Social Security and Medicare spending, but had not agreed to do so without additional concessions. If he had - and he had agreed to Boehner's funny money - there would be nothing left to negotiate.

Third, even with everything the White House offered as part of the grand bargain, there were no actual cuts in Social Security or Medicare. None. On the contrary, the Social Security reforms offered by the president would (a) raise he base benefit for the poorest (oooh, how un-liberal of him) and (b) make changes in the way yearly benefit increases are calculated. And his Medicare reforms would limit out-of-pocket expenses for seniors (currently there aren't any limits) in exchange for restricting "Medigap" plans cost-sharing provisions to crack down on industry (like "power chair") overages. Republicans say increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67 was also on the table, but (a) there is no independent or White House confirmation of that, and (b) in such a case, Congress would have to figure out how to accommodate people for 2 extra years under the Affordable Care Act.

But you know, the President's plan to sell seniors down the river was screwed up by the Gang of Six plan in the Senate.

Oh yes, yes, the gang of six! They came up with a better deal than the president was negotiating and the White House negotiators all had eggs on their face! Bill Daley (the then White House Chief of Staff) was very concerned about it because they came up with $2 trillion in extra revenue - and in real money, not Obama funny money! Now what? Well, the only part of this that was backed up by the Post report is the $2 trillion in revenue part, and, the Washington Post reporters were, in fact, factually wrong. The Senate gang of six deal included $1 trillion in revenue increases, not $2 trillion. Not that a self-termed "journalist" like Jon Chait can be counted on to actually look sh*t up before babbles or anything. Also, fact little known to Chait: the gang's plan didn't end up going anywhere.

At the end of the day, the President scored a very important victory in the debt ceiling fight. The Republicans did not give him the Grand Bargain he was looking for, but barring that, he protected social security, Medicare benefits, and programs for the poor from automatic cuts, while setting up the Pentagon for cuts as a hammer to the GOP to straighten out. But it's good to know that you can always count on the Poutrage Left to discover new ways to libel President Obama from old news.

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