Political Animal


July 07, 2011 10:40 AM When ‘flexibility’ is not what it appears to be

By Steve Benen

Reuters caused a stir late yesterday when it reported, “Republicans have tentatively agreed to between $150 billion and $200 billion in increased revenues in budget talks, Republican Senator Jon Kyl said on Wednesday.” Around the same time, the Washington Post said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has signaled “flexibility on tax loopholes” as part of debt-reduction talks.

Reader M.J. alerted me to this Associated Press piece with an almost comical headline: “As GOP shows flexibility, Obama adopts hard tone.” (It’s this kind of ridiculous thinking that leads Mark Halperin to call the president a “dick” on national television.)

What in the world are these media outlets talking about? Well, it appears some reporters are a little confused, or at a minimum, taken in too easily by misleading rhetoric without paying attention to the details.

The “flexibility” that the media was impressed with yesterday was really just Republicans talking about trading some tax subsidies for other tax cuts. That’s all. Democrats want to end wasteful tax breaks and apply the new revenue to deficit reduction. GOP officials, including Cantor, only said yesterday that they’re willing to apply savings to “offsetting tax cuts somewhere else.”

As Brian Beutler explained well, the official Republican line, at least of yesterday afternoon, is that the party opposes ending tax breaks to lower the deficit.

In other words, zero new revenues. But the Associated Press and other outlets nonetheless interpreted this as a major concession — a storyline Cantor’s office happily blasted out to reporters.

And as Reuters reported Wednesday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) made a point of emphasizing that Republicans had in fact agreed to new “revenue.” But he didn’t mean tax revenue.

“If the government sells something and gets revenue from it, that’s revenue. If there is a user fee of some kind and we want to raise that to keep up with the times, that’s revenue. And if you add up all of the revenues that we Republicans have agreed to, it’s between $150 billion and $200 billion,” Kyl said on the Senate floor.

But again, that’s not new tax revenue.

Republicans are playing a little game, and hoping media outlets won’t notice the difference. By saying they’re open to ending some tax subsidies, as debt-reduction talks continue, GOP leaders manage to trick reporters into connecting the two — Republicans, the misleading reporting tells the public, are showing flexibility in response to Democratic requests.

But in order for this to make sense, the GOP would have to be willing to raise revenue in order to lower the deficit. If you pay careful attention to the Republicans’ rhetoric yesterday, they’re still not.

It’s important for reporters to get the details right. Those who praised new-found GOP “flexibility” yesterday got the details wrong, and allowed dishonest Republicans to play them for fools.

Update: And now a GOP source confirms to Greg Sargent that all of these media reports were wrong, and that Republicans only want to apply savings to more tax cuts, not deficit reduction.

It’s amazing to me that so many major media outlets were so badly fooled.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • kindness on July 07, 2011 10:44 AM:

    Steve, you act like these 'knowledgeable' reporters don't know they are being played for idiots. They know. They think they can drive the meme by repeating bs.

    No, a more accurate description is that these 'reporters' are really hoping Republicans win. That is what they really seem to want. Otherwise, why is everything always good for Republicans and bad for Obama?

  • stormskies on July 07, 2011 10:52 AM:

    Just another sad example of the 'collusion' between the corporate media and the repiglican party in order to enact the corporate/ repiglican agenda. WE just need to remember what Bush's former press secretary, McClellan said about the corporate media and the Iraq war: "actively complicit" in making it happen .... and, in fact, as this sad example demonstrates, that is exactly what they do on everything .. the corporate media is 'actively complicit' in enabling the repiglican party because that party reflects their own agenda. So they hire the soulless goons to do their bidding ... this latest example is just that: the latest example

  • walt on July 07, 2011 10:58 AM:

    I'm not exactly sure why we should be upset by this. By this time next week, Obama will have capitulated to this framing and the Villagers will be singing hosannas to his Big Thinking.

    The few of us who gather here are not going to change his mind or the Republicans. Insofar as we still think there's something meaningful going on in this entire charade, the joke's on us.

  • marty on July 07, 2011 11:05 AM:

    "We donít know what kind of revenue, if any, Republicans would agree to,..."

    Actually, we do know - the answer is NONE, according to Eric Cantor this morning on Morning Joe- loopholes are OK to discuss, but MUST be offset by cuts elsewhere- in effect, not ONE DOLLAR more of revenue.

    Obama is getting rolled big time once again.

    Cantor this morning spouted all sorts of bullshit concern for the families "having a tough time of it" and stressing the importance of "first things first- getting this debt and deficit under control, so people can get back to work" - Sounds nice, doesn't it?

    The reality of his feelings came through when he was asked about the dichotomy between cuts to lower class people and no cuts for millionaires......while the question was being asked, he couldn't control the smirk that spread across his face.

    It was sickening to watch this smug little prig.

  • FRP on July 07, 2011 11:09 AM:

    It is important for reporters to get the details right. Those who praised new-found GOP flexibility yesterday got the details wrong, and allowed dishonest Republicans to play them for fools.

    Or ,

    May 25, 2005 "See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda ...

    Perhaps if there could be a system of informing citizens of blatant attempts to finesse salient points as so much chaff . Chaff that surprised consumers discover removes the ability to pay the nominal costs to perceive the liabilities in products , like lead , E coli , or often fatal bacterial disease of the small intestine epi/pandemic . Victories made possible by catapulting the good news that those turrible gubberment reguulators won't be using yuur hard earned money to keep certain bacterium from entertaining you with a profitable run on TP .

  • Anonymous on July 07, 2011 11:20 AM:

    . . . allowed dishonest Republicans to play them for fools.

    In other news, today is Thursday.

  • c u n d gulag on July 07, 2011 11:26 AM:

    Somewhere since "All the Presidents Men," news went from journalism to stenography.

    4th Estate my f*cking ass!!!

  • FlipYrWhig on July 07, 2011 12:08 PM:

    Reporters are idiots. Across the board. They don't think, they can't explain, and they'd rather not be bothered to improve. It's a sorry state of affairs. Good thing virtually no one pays any attention to them anymore.

  • Jim Pharo on July 07, 2011 12:22 PM:

    "Itís amazing to me that so many major media outlets were so badly fooled."

    ...because you just looked at your first newspaper? Isn't this the usual MO for our porr addled media?

  • Trollop on July 07, 2011 12:36 PM:

    This game is retarded, I now despise the Demo-craps more than I hate the Republi-Cunts.. These people should be facing firing squads for this fiscal idiocy! Raise taxes period, stop the wars, period. Fund education, infrastructure and work on sustainable fuel alternatives and sustainable agriculture. A special firing squad too for the Pharma industrialized greed for profit machine (brought to you by "Abilify"); with their unlimited profitable supply of poor and generally toxic treatments for diseases that do not have to be.

    Please Mr. President, Congress, Memebers of the Court,

    You're not governing responsibly whatsoever, get the Hell out of the way!

  • Chris on July 07, 2011 12:53 PM:

    I have a messaging idea that would make Karl Rove proud.

    Stop saying that Republicans will vote "not to increase the debt ceiling." To the uninformed, that sounds like a good thing.

    Instead, start saying, Republicans will vote "to default on our debt." I used it on my right-wing father yesterday, and to my surprise, it really shut him up.

  • AndThenThere'sThat on July 07, 2011 1:58 PM:

    Republicans will vote "to default on our debt."

    Now if only we could find a democrat anywhere to use that language.

  • patrick on July 07, 2011 5:33 PM:

    "Itís important for reporters to get the details right."

    Well, yes it is, but it's more important for the reporters to get the essentials right -- the republicans are using the general well being of the country as hostage. To criticize Obama for being hostile is absurd considering the situation -- he has not been hostile enough. The detail as to whether the hostage taking republicans are pointing a .357 revolver or a .9mm automatic, or whether their "flexibility" is the option of shooting us in the heart or the head is not as important as stating the basic criminal nature of the situation we find ourselves in.

  • Doug on July 07, 2011 9:21 PM:

    "Republicans will vote 'to default on our debt'". Chris @ 12:53 PM

    "Now if only we could find a democrat(sic) anywhere to use that language." AndThenThere'sThat @ 1: 58 PM

    Excellent, Chris!
    ATTT, if an agreement isn't reached during next week's meetings, I wouldn't be at all surprised if "a Democrat" isn't found.