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The Very Strange Regression of the Fiscal Talks

It's hard to ignore the ongoing negotiations over the "fiscal cliff" or "fiscal staircase" or "austerity bomb" or whatever you choose to call it. But it's also hard to avoid vertigo if you pay close attention to MSM coverage of alleged developments. I've been covering this as often as news merits at Washington Monthly.

The media framing of the negotiations has been maddening, to say the least. Republicans who are willing to adopt the repudiated revenue strategy of defeated GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney (revenue increases via loophole closings but not rate increases) are said to be brave rebels against the tyranny of Grover Norquist. Meanwhile, it's acceptable for Republicans to maintain the demand that Obamacare be repealed or significantly scaled back, even though the legislation provides the one true hope for "entitlement reform" via reduced health care costs.

Now insider reports indicate that Republicans are only going to be willing to cut a deal if Democrats first propose Medicare savings (you know, the kind that involves benefit cuts rather than health care cost containment). That's partly because such cuts are unpopular, but also because Republicans have spent the last two election cycles posing as saviors of Medicare benefits against cuts made by Obama.

And despite media lionization of random Republicans suggesting that the party might as well bend on high-end tax rates, the bulk of GOP congressmen and conservative activists are insisting as strongly as ever that they'd prefer the "fiscal cliff" to a compromise on tax rates.

Thus, the early post-election optimism about a "grand bargain" is quickly fading, leaving the two parties more or less as they were before election day. And you know what that means: more hysteria about the fiscal cliff! Makes you want to just howl.