One reason why the fiscal cliff negotiations haven’t gotten very far, at least in public, is that Republicans are hung up on the matter of exactly what they’re trying to achieve. It’s not that they don’t know the answer—they want deep cuts to entitlement spending—but rather they don’t want to advertise it because cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security is unpopular and therefore politically costly. But it’s hard to move forward if you’re not willing to state your demands, so things have bogged down since President Obama opened the negotiations by asking for $1.6 trillion in tax increases and deduction caps.
For Republicans, entitlement cuts are a long-sought-after prize, but one that’s difficult to openly acknowledge. Over the years, Democrats have reliably pursued a strategy known as “Mediscare”—frightening seniors by dramatizing how such cuts would affect them. Last year, a television ad attacking supporters of the Republican House budget famously depicted a prominent congressman shoving a wheelchair-bound granny off a cliff.