Let me call your attention to Ari Berman’s piece in The Nation, which kind of puts to rest all this drama about whether the Boehner plan or the Reid plan will succeed.

“Our plan includes more cuts,” Chuck Schumer bragged at a news conference on Capitol Hill yesterday when comparing Harry Reid’s debt plan to John Boehner’s.

The fact that Senate Democrats are trying to out-cut the cut-obsessed Republicans pretty much sums up the current political debate in Washington. “Harry Reid’s plan wins the austerity sweepstakes,” Adam Serwer wrote yesterday. “It’s the austerity party vs. the austerity party,” blogger Atrios tweeted.

President Obama has actively shifted the debt debate to the right, both substantively and rhetorically. Substantively by not insisting on a “clean bill” to raise the debt ceiling at the outset and actively pushing for drastic spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs as part of any deal. And rhetorically by mimicking right-wing arguments about the economy, such as the canard that reducing spending will create jobs (it won’t), or that the government’s budget is like a family’s budget (it isn’t), or that major spending cuts will return confidence to the market and spur the economy recovery we’ve all been waiting for (Paul Krugman calls it “the confidence fairy”).

Read the whole thing. There’s simply no case to be made that Democrats will somehow come to their senses and save everything after whatever Catfood Commission II recommendations come out. They have said things like “everyone agrees there must be cuts” in conference calls and press conferences for the last seven months. They have tried to outflank Republicans on deficit reduction every step of the way. In closed-door meetings the President gave up benefit cuts to Social Security, a reduction of federal participation in Medicaid and a raising of the Medicare eligibility age. There is no reason to believe that, after all this, a right-wing deficit reduction package coming out of the Catfood Commission II would suddenly get a thumbs-down. We all can name a handful of Dem Senators – Warner, Conrad, Lieberman, Manchin, Nelson of Nebraska, McCaskill, Landrieu just off the top of my head – who would be happy to vote for a deficit reduction bill, and a handful more who face tough elections in 2012 who would feel forced into it as well, no matter what it cuts who who is affected. The House would be a slightly tougher lift if Republicans deem it unsatisfactory, but there are a handful of Democrats who would help out that cause, too.

The hawks are ascendant, and the era of austerity is upon us. Whether the debt limit is held hostage for entitlement cuts or not, the odds are strongly in favor of them. And by the way, let’s not treat the discretionary budget like it’s something that can be easily sacrificed. We’re talking about public investment and aid to the poor and disabled, and it takes a huge hit in both plans. Any way you look at it, the spending level in this category will be “dangerously below historical norms,” as EPI writes.

As Berman writes, “President Obama has successfully used the bully pulpit to undermine the case for progressive governance.”

David Dayen

David Dayen

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