Matt Drudge has a classic headline:claim made by Bob Woodward.
The topic is the origin of the sequester idea currently vexing Washington; the specific point of dispute is this claim by Woodward:
Second, Lew testified during his confirmation hearing that the Republicans would not go along with new revenue in the portion of the deficit-reduction plan that became the sequester. Reinforcing Lew’s point, a senior White House official said Friday, “The sequester was an option we were forced to take because the Republicans would not do tax increases.”
In fact, the final deal reached between Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in 2011 included an agreement that there would be no tax increases in the sequester in exchange for what the president was insisting on: an agreement that the nation’s debt ceiling would be increased for 18 months, so Obama would not have to go through another such negotiation in 2012, when he was running for reelection.
So when the president asks that a substitute for the sequester include not just spending cuts but also new revenue, he is moving the goal posts. His call for a balanced approach is reasonable, and he makes a strong case that those in the top income brackets could and should pay more. But that was not the deal he made.
And Klein's rebuttal is pretty straightforward:
I don’t agree with my colleague Bob Woodward, who says the Obama administration is “moving the goalposts” when they insist on a sequester replacement that includes revenues. I remember talking to both members of the Obama administration and the Republican leadership in 2011, and everyone was perfectly clear that Democrats were going to pursue tax increases in any sequester replacement, and Republicans were going to oppose tax increases in any sequester replacement. What no one knew was who would win.
“Moving the goal posts” isn’t a concept that actually makes any sense in the context of replacing the sequester. The whole point of the policy was to buy time until someone, somehow, moved the goalposts such that the sequester could be replaced.
I think that is right. The sequester was meant to be a grim alternative to continued negotiations. To hold the attention of both parties it was designed to include components unappealing to both parties. At one point, the Democratic proposal was that Republcians would agree to automatic tax increases if the negotiations to replecae the sequester failed; Republicans hated that too much (and the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts was still in the future as of July 2011, which assured that taxes woiuld be re-negotiated), so Democrats agreeed that the Republican repellent would be automatic cuts in defense spending.
The NY Times provides their history of the sequester. They admit it was a Democratic idea but also provide a link to Obama's announcement of the deal, in which it is perfectly obvious that everything would be on the table as yet another newly formed committee pondered the alternatives.
Here is their description of how we arrived at the sequester:
So both parties started negotiating for a trigger, as they called it — an undesirable, automatic action that would slash deficits if Democrats and Republicans could not. Mr. Obama and Democrats wanted a trigger mandating automatic spending cuts and tax increases; Republicans insisted on spending cuts only.
Democrats conceded, and that is when Mr. Lew — along with Gene Sperling, director of Mr. Obama’s National Economic Council — proposed the Gramm-Rudman sequestration. Given that law’s Republican parentage, the Obama advisers figured this kind of trigger would appeal to Republicans, and it did.
One might say that the Republican insistence that the sequester only include spending cuts was a continuation of their view which had led to the stalemate, and that by agreeing to cuts only, Obama was accepting their view. I suppose Woodward is taking that line in saying that Obama is now moving the goalposts. The guppy claims, I say correctly, that the proper football metaphor is "punt".
Here is Bill Kristol describing the deal back in 2011 (my emphasis):
Whatever one’s ultimate judgment on the deal, it establishes a terrible precedent in treating defense as a pot of money to be slashed if various spending-control mechanisms don't work. It will thereby make it more difficult to have a serious discussion of the military spending that’s required for our national security needs. I assume the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 will run on a platform of re-doing this deal when he's in office to improve it considerably.
I infer that Kristol did not consider the goalposts to be set in stone.
As to the merits of the two positions, well, Obama got his tax increases to start the new year.
ERRATA: We were certain that the sequester was a Democratic idea a few days ago when we read this history of the sequester from Krugman:
There’s a silly debate under way about who bears responsibility for the sequester, which almost everyone now agrees was a really bad idea. The truth is that Republicans and Democrats alike signed on to this idea. But that’s water under the bridge. The question we should be asking is who has a better plan for dealing with the aftermath of that shared mistake.
We've all passed a lot of water since then.