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Republicans Hurt Brown by Agreeing With Him

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    California Gov. Jerry Brown

    Sometimes, the best way to insult someone is by agreeing with them.

    The makers of the Godfather knew this ("Hold your enemy closer"). So does comedian Stephen Colbert, who lampoons conservatives by adopting their rhetoric. But it was surprising to see that California's Republican legislators, usually a lead-footed lot, understand this too.

    The GOP made a smart political move this week by embracing Gov. Jerry Brown's pension plan. That would be good news for Brown, since his 12-point plan -- which focuses mostly on curbing abuses and setting standards for local government pensions -- appeared to have few allies.

    Except that the GOP's endorsement creates bigger problems for Brown. The governor's fellow Democrats, and especially their backers in the public employee unions, don't much like his plan. Some are opposing it outright. And that's a problem because Brown needs his party, and the unions, if he's going to have any chance of enacting the rest of his agenda, including convincing voters to adopt his temporary tax-hike ballot initiative this November.

    That's why the GOP move is a good step as a matter of policy and politics. On policy, Brown's reforms, while falling far short of the comprehensive pension changes the state's governments need, is probably the best hope for any improvement in the pension system this year, so the GOP support could help on policy. And on politics, the GOP has put Brown in a pickle.

    He can try to push through his pension plan, and risk dividing his support among Democrats and unions, which could badly weaken his campaign for the tax initiative.

    Or he can drop the pension plan -- or accept something much less bold than his own plan. That would please Democrats, but it could hurt his ability to convince voters to adopt the tax-hike initiative. Republicans could then argue against the taxes by saying Brown didn't do enough to save money on pensions, so why give him more money in taxes that will just go into the pockets of public employee retirees?

    Either way, the Republicans win.

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