Republicans Do Know Jack. Maybe a Little Too Well.

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


Last year, Republicans managed to sucker Bob Woodward into believing that the reason they had gotten frustrated with OMB director Jack Lew during the debt ceiling negotiations was that the guy just wasn’t willing to deal. “Jack Lew said no 999,000 times out of a million,” Boehner told Woodward. Then he corrected himself. “999,999. It was unbelievable. At one point I told the president, keep him out of here. I don’t need somebody who just knows how to say no.”

This self-serving fairy tale has entered Washington DC lore, but it’s so at odds with Lew’s previous reputation that it hardly bears scrutiny. Matt Yglesias knocks it down:

But it emerged over the course of the negotiations that John Boehner and other Republicans kept trying to kick Lew out of the room to make a deal. That’s because what Boehner wanted to do was make a deal in which spending cuts would be balanced by flim-flam, and Lew kept saying that the flim-flam didn’t work mathematically. To put a balanced package together, Lew insisted that you needed to have real revenue-increasing tax hikes not just “tax reform” and handwaving. This kept spoiling the party, so Boehner wanted to make deals with Daley—with the political fixer rather than the budget guy. But ultimately you couldn’t get a deal done, because you can’t just smuggle a deal past the OMB.

Pretty much all the evidence suggests that this is exactly what happened. The sticking point in the debt ceiling talks was never Jack Lew, nor was it Barack Obama’s supposed aloofness or poor negotiating skills. It was taxes. Full stop. In the end, the deal breaker was twofold: (a) Boehner wanted nothing more than a smoke-and-mirrors tax increase based on dynamic scoring pixie dust, and (b) he balked when Obama tried to increase his tax ask after the Gang of Six announced a bipartisan deficit plan that included $1.2 trillion in increased taxes.

Deficit negotiations between Obama and Boehner have always foundered on taxes, one way or another. The tea party zealots in the House simply won’t support tax increases of even a dime, and Boehner can’t make them. It’s never been clear to me whether Boehner sincerely wants to make deals and just can’t get his caucus to agree, or if he’s always known that taxes are off the table but is pretty good at spinning reporters into believing that he really tried his best.

In any case, keep this mind when you read about the inevitable Republican kvetching over Lew’s nomination as treasury secretary. It’s mostly just invented nonsense. They don’t like being embarrassed by a guy who keeps trying to drag them back into reality when the subject is budget numbers. That’s what this is really about.

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate