I was going to post this earlier today, but decided not to:
Jon Chait is unhappy with David Brooks:
David Brooks, Obama Plan Birther: ... David Brooks today ... lashes out at the obstinacy of the Republican Party and its refusal to compromise on the deficit. But he has to balance it out by asserting that President Obama, too, lacks any such plan...
This is demonstrably false. Whatever you think about the substantive merits of Obama’s plan, it does exist. ...
So is Steve Benen:
When false claims drive the debate: As best as I can tell, New York Times columnist David Brooks is a well-connected pundit. Powerful people return his phone calls, and when he wants information from top governmental offices, Brooks tends to get it.
And with this in mind, it's puzzling that Brooks based his entire column today on an easily-checked error. The conservative pundit insists President Obama "declines to come up with a proposal to address" next week's sequester mess, adding, "The president hasn't actually come up with a proposal to avert sequestration."
I'll never understand how conservative media personalities get factual claims like this so very wrong. If Brooks doesn't like Obama's sequester alternative, fine; he can write a column explaining his concerns. But why pretend the president's detailed, already published plan, built on mutual concessions from both sides, doesn't exist? ...
But this addition, via Brad DeLong, changes my mind -- this is worth echoing:
David Brooks: In my ideal world, the Obama administration would do something Clintonesque… a budget policy… like… Robert Rubin… and if the Republicans rejected that, moderates like me would say that’s awful…
Ezra Klein: I’ve read Robert Rubin’s tax plan. He wants $1.8 trillion in new revenues. The White House… is down to $1.2 trillion…. [T]he White House’s offer seems more centrist…. People say the White House should do something centrist like Simpson-Bowles, even though their plan has less in tax hikes and less in defense cuts…
At this point David Brooks has a choice: he can say "I am an idiot who does not know what I am talking about"; or he can change the subject.
Guess what he does?
David Brooks: My first reaction is I’m not a huge fan of Simpson-Bowles anymore; I used to be. Among others, you persuaded me the tax reform scheme in theirs is not the best. Simpson-Bowles just doesn’t do enough on entitlements…
If I were running the New York Times, I would look at this and immediately say: We need to get Brooks out of our pages yesterday if not before, and we need an Ezra Klein of our own very badly.
Why oh why can't we have a better press corps?
The context: Does Obama have a plan? A conversation with David Brooks: ...
A much longer take:
Ezra Klein: In the column, you said that the Obama administration doesn’t have a plan to replace the sequester. I feel like I’ve had to spend a substantial portion of my life reading their various budgets and plans to replace the sequester, and my sense is that you’ve had to do this, too. So, what am I missing?
David Brooks: First, the column was a bit of an over-the-top… I probably went a bit too far when saying the president didn’t have a response to the sequester…. I was unfair…. [But] there’s no scorable plan they’ve come up with, at least this time around… it would serve the country well if they put out something specific….
EK: CBO did score the president’s budget, and almost all of their proposals are drawn from that. I find, in general, that legislators often ask Elmendorf if he’s scored things from the White House and then crow about the fact that he hasn’t, when all that’s really going on is CBO doesn’t score everything the president does or says.
DB: If you look at the charts I’ve seen, they’re targets that, say, cut x from agriculture spending, and specifically how you do that is vague…. I think having something concrete and standalone is the way for the president to go… he's got a responsibility…. I don’t think he’s given us a document that would anchor the debate in a boring, managerial framework so we can have a debate over substance.
EK: On that point, one theme in your column, and in a lot of columns these days, is this idea that the president should, on the one hand, be putting forward centrist policies, and on the other hand, that if he’s putting forward policies that the Republican Party won’t agree to, those policies don’t count, as they’re nothing more than political ploys… it seems a bit dangerous and strange to say the boundaries of the discussion should be set by the agenda that lost the last election.
DB: In my ideal world, the Obama administration would do something Clintonesque: They’d govern from the center; they’d have a budget policy that looked a lot more like what Robert Rubin would describe, and if the Republicans rejected that, moderates like me would say that’s awful…
EK: But I’ve read Robert Rubin’s tax plan. He wants $1.8 trillion in new revenues. The White House, these days, is down to $1.2 trillion. I’m with Rubin on this one, but given our two political parties, the White House’s offer seems more centrist…. People say the White House should do something centrist like Simpson-Bowles, even though their plan has less in tax hikes and less in defense cuts….
DB: My first reaction is I’m not a huge fan of Simpson-Bowles anymore; I used to be. Among others, you persuaded me the tax reform scheme in theirs is not the best. Simpson-Bowles just doesn’t do enough on entitlements…. I agree with you [that Republicans] shouldn’t be given veto power over the debate, but I still think that if you look at what moderates want the administration to do, they have not gone far enough.
EK: What would be far enough, in your view? What would you like to see them offer?
DB: My fantasy package, and I’m not running for office, would include a progressive consumption tax, and it would have chained CPI, and it would have a pretty big means-test of Medicare. I’d direct you to Yuval Levin’s piece in the Times a few days ago, which seemed sensible.
EK: On the topic of deals Republicans should take, I’m completely confused by their stance on the sequester…. They want to reduce the deficit, cut entitlements, protect defense, simplify the tax code by cutting out various expenditures, and lower rates…. Republicans could get four of their five goals by striking a sequester deal, and they could always cut tax rates later, whenever they get into power. What am I missing?
DB: Here’s something I’m confused by: how much they still believe in top rate reductions. I would say in the conservative economist world I think I know almost nobody… super motivated by top rate reductions anymore. I don’t think that’s true with Republican members of Congress. I think there’s a lag between the wonks and the legislators. The second thing is, for them, the big issue is overall size of government. When they try to explain why growth is so slow, it’s because we’re saddled with this large, unproductive public sector, and they need to bring that down. And cutting tax expenditures would generate money for a bigger more unproductive public sector.
EK: So, then, what do you see as the White House’s motivating theory?
DB: If I were to capsulize their theory, it’s lets stabilize the debt over 10 years, maybe do some things that would make it better beyond the 10-year window, but let’s not try to take care of the long-term debt issue all at once. Achieve a floor and then focus on growth and equity. And I guess my response would be, as the [International Monetary Fund] and others have said, if you don’t lay the groundwork for a long-term debt solution now, it gets immeasurably harder every year you wait. I agree there are three big issues — equity, growth and debt — and it’s hard to address all three at the same time. But that’s what we need to do. ...