The White House has signaled with its deficit reduction and job creation plan, smashed together in one report to the Super Committee, that it is not interested in continuing negotiations behind closed doors with the GOP aimed at a grand bargain.
They may still want that grand bargain, as they have wanted it for two-plus years. But my takeaway is they aren’t going to expend an ounce more political capital to achieve it.
This is evident in the early GOP responses to the plan and the accompanying speeches. Mitch McConnell and John Boehner ran out of adjectives to describe their anger at the plan.
“Veto threats, a massive tax hike, phantom savings, and punting on entitlement reform is not a recipe for economic or job growth — or even meaningful deficit reduction. The good news is that the Joint Committee is taking this issue far more seriously than the White House,” McConnell said in a statement.
Boehner echoed McConnell in a separate statement.
“Pitting one group of Americans against another is not leadership. The Joint Select Committee is engaged in serious work to tackle a serious problem: the debt crisis that is making it harder to get our economy growing and create more American jobs,” Boehner said.
“Unfortunately, the President has not made a serious contribution to its work today,” Boehner continued. “This administration’s insistence on raising taxes on job creators and its reluctance to take the steps necessary to strengthen our entitlement programs are the reasons the president and I were not able to reach an agreement previously, and it is evident today that these barriers remain.”
Other Republican statements are the same, essentially variations on denouncing the plan as political posturing.
I would say the President has not made a serious contribution to the work of the Super Committee, because he has gotten no support for any of the multitude of so-called “serious contributions,” which should be read as “meeting Republicans on their own terms,” that he has put forward over the past year and a half. All this has done has taken the country down a self-destructive austerity path while crashing support for the President and his party. According to the informed take of Ezra Klein, this can be best seen in last week’s special elections:
The administration was initially pleased to see press reports detailing their willingness to compromise and surveys showing the American people thought the GOP far more intransigent. In their theory of politics, that meant they were winning. But they soon learned that voters aren’t interested in compromises that don’t lead to results. Obama looked like a nice guy, and that kept him personally popular. But he looked like an ineffectual leader, and that led his job approval to dip below 40 percent in some polls.
Perhaps the final and most conclusive evidence that the strategy had failed came last week, when Democrats lost special elections in Nevada and New York. Both seats were winnable for the Democrats. Both were lost to candidates who focused most of their fire on the president. It was a far cry from the special election in May, when Democrat Kathy Hochul picked up a Republican-leaning seat by hammering her opponent’s support for Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare-slashing budget.
The White House could have been hammering that message since the day the House Republican Conference passed Ryan’s budget. They didn’t. The truth is, they didn’t want to. The president doesn’t think of himself as that kind of Democrat. He believes that there are sensible cuts that can be made to both Medicare and Social Security. He would like to win by governing effectively, by cutting deals with the other party, by making Washington work. He doesn’t want to run a generic Democratic campaign hammering Republicans for being willing to cut Medicare even as they cut taxes on the rich.
And for the last few months, he gave what Sarah Palin might call “the hopey-changey thing” a shot. But it failed. The choice, it turned out, wasn’t between winning by making tough choices and hard compromises and winning by running as a populist. It was between losing because he was unable to get Washington to make tough choices and hard compromises and trying something else. So now the White House is trying something else.
The coda to this is that progressive critics of the Presidential strategy screamed that this wouldn’t work from the very beginning. They said that Republicans were too dug in on anti-tax ideology to ever agree to any grand bargain. They said that this “I’m the most reasonable guy in the room” pose would not have any resonance with voters, who will judge on tangible results. They said that a focus on deficit reduction would distract from the key issue that will decide the 2012 election, core economic performance. And after 18 months in the wilderness, the White House is coming around to believe that this is correct. “Changing Washington” has been traded in for actually drawing a contrast. The language in the President’s speech is very explicit.
It is wrong that in the United States of America, a teacher or a nurse or a construction worker who earns $50,000 should pay higher tax rates than somebody pulling in $50 million. Anybody who says we can’t change the tax code to correct that, anyone who has signed some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out. They should have to defend that unfairness — explain why somebody who’s making $50 million a year in the financial markets should be paying 15 percent on their taxes, when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying more than that — paying a higher rate. They ought to have to answer for it. And if they’re pledged to keep that kind of unfairness in place, they should remember, the last time I checked the only pledge that really matters is the pledge we take to uphold the Constitution […]
It comes down to this: We have to prioritize. Both parties agree that we need to reduce the deficit by the same amount — by $4 trillion. So what choices are we going to make to reach that goal? Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both.
Either we gut education and medical research, or we’ve got to reform the tax code so that the most profitable corporations have to give up tax loopholes that other companies don’t get. We can’t afford to do both.
This is not class warfare. It’s math.
You can quibble with the desired outcome, but you cannot deny that this represents an actual choice. The time for deal making is over. We’re on a course of highlighting contrasts for the next several months.