Here’s an object lesson in the conceit that Presidents don’t have any power to set the agenda. It’s pretty clear that they do, particularly among their own party.
When the Catfood Commission II was put together, the goal for the panel was to come up with $1.5 trillion in additional deficit reduction solutions, on top of the $900 billion already enacted in the debt limit deal. The reason $1.5 trillion was the target is that, under the terms of the deal, the debt limit would be allowed to rise by $1.5 trillion if the Catfood Commission II recommendations could be enacted.
But President Obama immediately set out to explain that $1.5 trillion was not enough. He said he would put forward a specific plan that would reduce the deficit well beyond that $1.5 trillion and deliver it to the committee.
And now, the Democrats on the committee are following the leader of their party.
The key dilemma facing President Obama and Congressional Democrats is that Republicans are wholly unwilling to support any new job-creating spending projects — even projects with bipartisan support — unless they’re offset with spending cuts or savings elsewhere in the budget.
Thus, Democrats on the new joint deficit Super Committee will seek more than the $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction they’ve been tasked with finding, in order to help offset some of those costs.
“All of us would like to set as a target for ourselves even more than $1.5 trillion,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who’s also the top House Democrat on the Budget Committee, told reporters at a Tuesday Capitol press conference.
Xavier Becerra, another member of the committee, agrees with Van Hollen, and pronounced himself open to the “cutting of services… so long as…there’s proof that the proposal will lead to job growth and deficit reduction.”
Basically, Becerra and Van Hollen are trying to deliver the original grand bargain, the one that calls for job creating stimulus ideas in the near term balanced out by deficit reduction, including to cherished programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, in the long term. This is what the Administration thought it would get when they enacted the stimulus, and followed up with a focus on the deficit (including in the Affordable Care Act, which was very deficit-focused). Then they switched to a “balanced” deficit reduction plan as the grand bargain. But with that having failed, we’re going back to the initial plan: a few shekels for jobs now, and a torching of the social safety net later. Van Hollen and Becerra stressed that they still want revenue increases in the plan somewhere, but I imagine they will value some job creation more than tax increases.
I don’t think Republicans will be any more amenable to this than they were to increasing taxes, so it all seems like bargaining without any hope of a result. But consider that, to the White House, the payroll tax cut is a job creation program. And there’s talk of other middle-class tax cuts in the jobs package. So assuming that this grand bargain somehow goes through, you have a deal with temporary tax cuts now, and spending cuts later. How is that not the text of every Republican Party platform for the last 30 years? I’m well aware that Republicans don’t really care about the deficit, but if they get their entire ideological agenda in the exchange, I’m sure they won’t mind if the deficit starts dropping a bit. And to boot, they get “temporary” tax cuts that they can leverage into permanent ones, which is what’s currently occurring.
Nothing I’ve described would be at all uncomfortable for this President. If you listen to his public statements, he clearly wants this tax cut and spending cut agenda to go forward. And now, his Democratic colleagues on the Catfood Commission, even the putatively liberal ones like Xavier Becerra, are mimicking him. That’s because a President has a lot of influence and power.