Ed blogged the presser earlier but I want to make sure that everyone sees the lowest moment from it, when The One dared to compare public anxiety after decades of federal complacency about the debt to frustration that it took three! whole! weeks! to oust Mubarak. (Has anyone actually made that complaint, by the way — that Egypt’s revolution was too sluggish? Or is that yet another of Obama’s famous straw men?) The reason, of course, that people are “impatient” with his cowardice on entitlements is because this seemed like the perfect moment to finally address them. He’s got a Republican House that’s being spurred on by tea partiers to cut cut cut; he’s got a new House budget chairman in Paul Ryan whose reputation has been built on addressing long-term sustainability. And, thanks to the mind-boggling deficits of the past few years, he’s got heightened public awareness about the magnitude of the problem. Releasing his new budget seemed like a fine time to finally have that “adult conversation” on Social Security and Medicare that he keeps promising, but nope. The best he can do in dodging Chuck Todd’s question here about why he ignored his own Deficit Commission is to float pay some more feeble lip service about how it provides “a framework for a conversation.” We’re not actually going to have the conversation, but hey, at least there’s a framework. Progress.
So lame is his new budget proposal that some Obama fans in the media are speculating that there must be a more serious, super secret plan in the works between him and the GOP to reach a compromise on entitlements and the budget. Is there? From the New York Review of Books:
But despite all the confrontational rhetoric between the two parties about budget priorities, the White House and Republican congressional leaders, in private talks, have agreed on the need to try to reach a bipartisan “grand bargain” over the budget—a sweeping deal that could include entitlements and tax reforms as well as budget reduction. A Senate Republican leadership aide confirmed this, saying, “In fact, for anything to happen, it will require such a White House/congressional leadership bargain.” The preferred idea is that, just as they did late last year on the tax bill, they would reach an agreement and then unveil it to the public.
McConnell has also suggested private negotiations as the path to serious entitlement reform. But if that’s the plan, with the two sides waging war publicly over the budget while compromising privately, doesn’t it set up Obama’s base to feel hugely betrayed when he eventually strikes a deal with Boehner and McConnell? By ducking entitlement reform in his own budget and ceding it to the GOP, he’s created a situation where he’ll be seen as having sold out to the right on the “social safety net” when the alleged grand bargain is struck. Or is that the whole point, to make it seem like he was dragged kicking and screaming towards a compromise by refusing to even consider entitlements in his own proposal? That’ll buy him a little goodwill with seniors and his base, but only a little. Exit question: Should Obama want a grand bargain on entitlements before or after the next election? Doing it beforehand would be hugely risky given the impact of the cuts, but it would also hugely damage the GOP’s chief line of attack that he’s not serious about balancing the budget. Click the image to watch.