The “grand bargain” as campaign ploy
posted at 1:52 pm on July 10, 2011 by Karl
Ed Morrissey does a good job of explaining the apparent collapse of any “grand bargain” between Pres. Obama and the Conressional GOP regarding the public debt bomb. He’s no more partisan about it than the faux-objective Politico (seriously, even compared to the WaPo and McClatchy(!) coverage, David Rogers and Jake Sherman should be ashamed of their unbalanced hackery). But I want to go a step further to explain why the “grand bargain” is an extension of Pres. Obama’s re-election campaign.
First, as James Pethokoukis (who beat the establishment media like a drum on this story) suggests, there is little political downside for Pres. Obama in such negotiations, so long as he insists on major, unambiguous tax increases and opposes entitlement reform. If Republicans caved in to such a deal, it would demoralize the GOP base and possibly prompt Tea Party challenges, splitting the vote on the right. Moreover, a deal would help fool the casual, low-information voter that Obama cares about and is addressing the public debt bomb.
Second (and perhaps more significant), failing to reach a “grand bargain” is Pres. Obama’s current campaign strategy. You need not take my word for it. Instead, you can observe what Pres. Obama has done since before the midterm elections.
Consider the general political environment before the midterm election. The right and the Tea Party raised the political temperature on the issue of the public debt bomb. Pres. Obama punted on the issue by forming the Simpson-Bowles commission. After the election, he tossed their recommendations in the trash bin. However, in doing so, Obama created a politcal vacuum, which was filled by the House GOP budget devised by Rep. Paul Ryan. The left needed a response.
Accordingly, Pres. Obama (as he always does) gave a speech (which was not a budget, and has never been made into one). While much of the establishment media spun that speech as an embrace of the Simpson-Bowles recommendations, it was not. Simpson-Bowles sought to clothe its tax increases in the garb of the Tax Reform Act of 1986: lowering tax rates and eliminating deductions. But the Simpson-Bowles recommendations were not revenue-neutral. Even so, they were at least structurally similar to the House GOP budget, which proposed similar tax reform that was revenue-neutral. Any purveyor of Beltway conventional wisdom could see the type of deal to be struck.
However, Obama’s non-budget speech did not adopt the basic structure of the House GOP or his bipartisan commissioners. Rather, Obama proposed raising tax rates and eliminating deductions. Moreover, Obama’s proposed enforcement triggers would exempt more than 90% of government spending from his supposed automatic across-the-board cut. Combined with grossly hypocritical demagogy on entitlements, Obama’s speech was not a forerunner to a serious plan, but an attempt to rerun the Clinton ’95 re-elect playbook.
Anyone harboring any doubt over who is repsonsible for the failure of a “grand bargain” must consider Pres. Obama’s record. He avoided the debt before the election. After the election, he submitted a budget so absurd it got zero votes in a Democrat-controlled Senate. [Indeed, Senate Democrats have yet to submit a budget of any kind.] He has not moved from the positions he staked out in April. His position is not balanced, no matter how much the White House and the establishment media try to spin it as such.
Furthermore, there should be no expectation that Obama will budge on the budget. Obama’s non-budget speech was a tacit admission that he cannot run for re-election on his record, but must demonize his opponents with class warfare and MediScare. He would be willing to entertain a GOP surrender on his terms, because he likely calculates that the liberals put off by any deal will be outnumbered by demoralized conservatives and libertarians, while he gains casual, low-information independents. Otherwise, he has already announced his intentions. He will do the only thing for which he has shown any talent: campaign. Whether he can run a negative campaign running from his record, as opposed to standing as the blank slate of Hope and Change, remains to be seen.