Obama to offer "scalpel, not machete" for entitlement reform

Barack Obama has belatedly discovered that Americans want to see reductions in government spending.  How else to explain David Plouffe’s appearance on a series of talk shows yesterday announcing that the President would unveil a new proposal this week to counter Paul Ryan’s roadmap on entitlement reform?  However, it seems as though Obama still hasn’t figured out the scale of the problem:

In an effort to go on the offensive in the battle over government spending, Obama will look for cuts in “all corners of government,” senior adviser David Plouffesaid on several Sunday talk shows.

Although Obama’s health-care law is projected to curtail Medicare spending over time, “we have to do more,” Plouffe said Sunday, marking the first time the administration has made an explicit commitment to changes in entitlement programs for the purpose of deficit reduction.

Contrasting the president’s approach with what Republican leaders have put forward, Plouffe said Obama will use a “scalpel” and not a “machete” as he seeks to preserve funding for education and other areas he considers crucial to the country’s long-term economic success.

Well, scalpels are fine when the problem comprises a small part of the overall whole.  The federal budget deficit now runs $1.6 trillion, and we’re borrowing 40% of all the money we spend each year.  If 40% of a patient had gangrene, to use Plouffe’s analogy, using a scalpel to trim off the edges would leave one with a dead patient.

Recall that Barack Obama just delivered a ten-year projection for his spending plan with the FY2012 budget proposal last month.  His plan didn’t envision any systemic reform of entitlement spending beyond his fanciful estimations of ObamaCare on Medicare.  With his base already in revolt over the tax deal (and afterward, Libya), Obama had no desire to engage in a debate on entitlements.  Ryan’s plan has put Obama on the defensive, and the White House is playing catch-up.

Now that Obama is acknowledging the need for budget cuts and the role of entitlements in the deficit/debt crisis, he’s stuck.  The White House has to offer a plan that actually cuts entitlement spending enough to close the deficit gap, or they have to raise revenues.  The question isn’t whether a machete gets used, it’s a question of where they plan to use the machete — on entitlement spending, or on taxpayers?  Now that Obama has engaged on the issue, those are the only two choices he has.

Update: Jen Rubin pronounces the Obama do-over on the budget “pathetic.”  I don’t disagree, but it’s useful as an indicator of just how much the paradigm has changed.

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