The Grand Bargain

President Obama likes Grand Bargains with Republicans. Just prior to the election, he made these comments to the Des Moines Register:

I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending…

And, he is eager to point out to the chorus of ankle-biting snakes that make up the Republican leadership, cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and education are on the table as his part of the bargain.

Now, I like grand bargains as much as the next person,  at least when they involve something like “buy one, get one free” on cinnamon buns (and they’re not stale). And “bargain” sounds so fair. Each side gives up something it wants in order to reach agreement.  So what’s wrong with that? Well, how about this “grand bargain.” Dad wants a 2 week vacation in the Cayman islands and Mom says they should spend the money on school clothes and supplies for the kids. Dad suggests they strike a bargain. They take only a 10 day vacation and buy clothes for only the child who grew the most. Fair enough, right? A little pain from each side. What could be more equitable?

Well, “equitable” means that each side is giving away something of equal value. And in monetary terms, that’s correct—$1000 is $1000, whether it’s spent on a vacation or kids’ clothing. But do you really think that mom should be bargaining with dad at all? Or should she say “What are you talking about? We’re not spending on any vacation at all until the kids are taken care of.” What would happen in your house? Right, I figured.

So why are we not saying, “No, we’re not cutting care for old people, sick people and kids’ education just so you can have lower taxes on the well-to-do and more military spending than the rest of the world combined. We’re not bargaining those things away.” Oh, that’s right, we want to appear reasonable. But it’s not reasonable to trade jewels for junk just because they weigh the same. We should cut our wars and war spending (including the war on drugs) and restore taxes to Clintonian levels. That’s reasonable. Bargain that.