The headline “Obama to Press Centrist Agenda in His Address bore very little resemblance to the content therein. Maybe I expected something far worse, and am judging the results thusly, but I’d say that the President calling for new investments and staying silent on the Bowles-Simpson cat food recommendations is pretty darn good, all things considered:
Mr. Obama is unlikely, they said, to embrace the recommendations of a bipartisan majority on the debt-reduction commission he created, which proposed slashing projected annual deficits through 2020 with deep cuts in domestic and military spending, changes to Social Security and Medicare, and an overhaul of the individual and corporate tax codes to simplify them and to raise additional revenues.
In general, the theme of deficit reduction will be less prominent in the speech as Mr. Obama emphasizes spending “investments” and “responsible” budget cutting at a time when Republicans have proposed spending cuts, unspecified, of 20 percent or more. “We’re also going to have to deal with our deficits and our debt in a responsible way,” Mr. Obama said in the videotaped message. “And we’ve got to reform government so that it’s leaner and smarter for the 21st century.”
You can watch the video preview from which some of this report comes here.
All of this will be pushed through a frame of “competitiveness.” And yes, that’s a hackneyed and even misleading frame. But it’s being employed for the generally good ends of seeking more investment in education, research and infrastructure. I’ll take the flip side of this argument from Krugman, then.
Right now, there’s no way that these investments will see the light of day. Republicans fell all over themselves yesterday to say they’d oppose them. But instead of the argument playing out over how much of Social Security or some other federal spending to cut, we have a new argument about new investments, and Obama has the bigger megaphone, so he can set up a true opposition to Republicans in this regard. This gives the Democrats in Congress something to rally around. And all of a sudden, we’re having a brand new conversation to the expected one over how much to cut. This first offer on the negotiating table for more spending on key areas changes the conversation completely.
Look how pissed off Jeff Sessions is about this state of affairs:
Senate Budget Committee ranking member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) ripped President Obama in a Washington Post opinion piece Monday for allegedly failing to provide leadership in addressing the budget deficit. He also proposed tying any vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling to a 10 percent cut in spending.
“Last month, President Obama would agree to maintain current tax rates only if Congress would agree to increase federal deficit spending. We are headed toward a cliff, yet the president hits the accelerator,” Sessions said.
In the lame-duck session, Obama agreed to an extension of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy only in exchange for an extension of unemployment insurance.
“Now is the time to act. Yet the president continues to resist any meaningful steps to secure our financial future,” Sessions wrote.
Sessions is upset because this wasn’t supposed to be the game. The President was supposed to “lead” on the deficit by setting out a marker for cuts and making it impossible for Democrats to oppose him. Even Sessions’ solution – no debt limit increase without a 10% cut in discretionary spending – is LOWER than what other Republicans have been asking. The President’s call for new investment forced him to come in with a lower bid.
This was a pretty good gambit from the President’s team.
UPDATE: A bit more from WSJ:
The president will try to keep the deficit conversation in broad terms, fearing that detailed proposals would put Republicans, Democrats and Washington interest groups into a defensive crouch before real negotiations can take place, according to those officials. White House officials, for instance, have assured Democratic lawmakers that the president will not explicitly call for cuts in Social Security benefits, though he will say changes are needed to put the program on a solid fiscal footing.
At the same time, Mr. Obama will call on both parties to be prepared to put everything on the table. That means Democrats have to be ready to look at changes to Social Security, and Republicans to consider tax-code changes to increase revenue.
That’s somewhat worse than the initial reports, but it avoids specifics, at least, which was certainly a possibility. Needless to say the fight for Social Security isn’t over.