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Kerry, Not Baucus, Weakest Link on Catfood Commission II

I was on the radio yesterday and I explained that Max Baucus is probably to the left of all the announced members of the Catfood Commission II, something the interviewer could hardly believe. But I think the available evidence shows this to be the case. He dissented from the original Catfood Commission because of Social Security and Medicaid. He is extremely protective of his jurisdiction on the Finance Committee, and in particular the Affordable Care Act, which is his bill as much as anyone in Congress. He will be highly unlikely to join even a grand bargain if it undermines those tentpoles.

John Kerry, on the other hand

Sen. John Kerry’s appointment to the debt-reduction supercommittee is his big moment to shine as a dealmaker and silence critics who have questioned his modest record of legislative accomplishments.

Kerry’s big opportunity, however, is troubling to some liberal leaders and labor union officials who worry that the senior Democrat from Massachusetts might be too eager to strike a grand bargain […]

Kerry inflamed those anxieties over the weekend during an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Kerry spoke favorably of a grand bargain that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had tried to reach, noting it would have included “a mix of reductions and, and reforms in Social Security.” […]

“Like President Obama, Kerry is fatally attracted to the notion of a grand bargain, sacrificing cuts in Medicare and Social Security in exchange for increased revenues to reduce long term deficits. And he is simply wrong-headed about what the nation must do in order to get the economy on track,” said Robert Borosage, co-director of Campaign for America’s Future, a progressive advocacy group.

Of course, it takes two to grand bargain, and I see little indication that any, let alone all, of the six Republicans chosen by John Boehner and Mitch McConnell yesterday will agree to any tax revenues as part of a deal on the committee. Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) moved a hair in this direction the other day, but I would seriously doubt that he could bring any of his colleagues along on that point.

The fear on the committee is that you’d get 99% of the Republican half of the grand bargain, with cuts to safety net programs and social insurance, and 1% of the revenue half, and that Kerry would find a way to call that a victory. He also has the carrot of a Secretary of State position that the Obama Administration can dangle to move him toward a deal, which they appear to want.

I remember well Kerry’s statement during the doomed climate bill debate, “We believe we have compromised significantly, and we’re prepared to compromise further.” This is the attitude that has engendered concern.

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David Dayen

David Dayen