WaPo: Obama going full populist with new budget proposals

Looks like Barack Obama’s first term as President has ended for all intents and purposes, and the Obama 2012 campaign has begun in earnest instead, according to the Washington Post.  Obama’s new proposals on the federal deficit and jobs have gone all-in on taxes while leaving the biggest drivers of federal deficits mainly untouched.  In fact, despite repeatedly admitting this year that entitlement programs have to change, Obama has offered nothing more in his deficit-reduction package than rosy predictions of the impact of fighting waste, fraud, and abuse:

Combined with his call this month for $450 billion in new stimulus, the proposal represents a more populist approach to confronting the nation’s economic travails than the compromises he advocated earlier this summer.

Obama will propose new taxes on the wealthy, a special new tax for millionaires, and eliminating or scaling back a variety of loopholes and deductions, officials say. About half of the tax savings would come from the expiration next year of the George W. Bush administration tax cuts for the wealthy.

But the president won’t call for any changes in Social Security, officials say, and is seeking less-aggressive changes to Medicare and Medicaid than previously considered. He will propose $320 billion in health-care savings but will not include raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, officials said.

Any reduction in Medicare benefits would not begin until 2017, they said. Other cuts in domestic spending would bring the total spending savings to $580 billion. About $1 trillion in savings is also expected from winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama will pledge to veto any cut in entitlements that does not also include increases in tax revenue.

The supposed savings of $1 trillion from “winding down the wars” assumes that we would have been fighting in Afghanistan a decade from now, which everyone recognizes as politically impossible now.  Harry Reid tried proposing the same thing as “budget reduction” and drew derisive laughter as a result.  Some of the supposed savings would also have to come from fixed costs that won’t go away when troops return to the US, either, which makes the notion that we’ll see anything like $1 trillion in savings from this part of Obama’s plan entirely delusional.

The rest of this plan looks like a campaign document, and a dishonest one at that.  Obama wants higher taxes now in exchange for minimal reductions in Medicare six years from now, a deal that not even the most naive and trusting Republican would make.  It’s on the edge of being insulting, but Obama gleefully leaps over the edge in crossing from governance to campaigning.  He knows this has no chance of making it out of the Republican House, and that’s the point — so much so that David Frum blasts it as a “stunt”:

On one side, the GOP, pledged to the Ryan plan, the most radical redefinition of government from the right since 1964.

On the other side, the president, offering the sharpest left turn since Teddy Kennedy’s challenge to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

The president’s new brainwave is a stunt that threatens the country’s long-term prosperity and growth. The lapse of the Bush tax cuts plus a new millionaire tax bracket thrusts us back to the high rates of the 1970s. The proposed new five-bracket structure opens new temptations to economically wasteful tax arbitrage.

And remember: all this comes atop the tax increases already embedded in the Affordable Care Act (taxes that, I won’t refrain from pointing out could have been negotiated away back in 2010).

Frum doesn’t like the Paul Ryan plan to reform entitlements and government spending either, but does note that Obama seems intent on fighting Paul Ryan from as far left as possible, rather than proposing a plan that could peel some Republicans off in support.  It’s designed specifically to avoid an agreement, which will not just mean that Obama has given up on doing anything useful for the next fourteen months.  It will also undermine the efforts in Congress to find ways to trim $1.5 trillion in future spending growth, mandated as part of the debt-ceiling deal last month.  The new proposal threatens to derail Congress entirely until after the 2012 election.

Obama must believe that this puts him in a better political position than where he’s at now, but it’s difficult to see how.  Pandering to the populist, class-warfare Left in his base might win him some momentary cheers from that direction, but the sudden shift to tax hikes and class warfare won’t encourage capital to enter any risk-taking behavior.  After years of talking about entitlement reform, Obama’s switch to tax hikes without significant spending cuts is out of step with the American electorate, as the 2010 midterms amply demonstrated.  Republicans couldn’t do a better job of painting Obama and Democrats as a tax-and-spend party than the latest salvos from the Oval Office in this supposed deficit reduction package and Porkulus II.

Obama seems to forget that Ted Kennedy lost to Jimmy Carter in the 1980 primaries — and that Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in the general election, and lost big.  Unleashing his inner Carter is likely to produce a similar outcome, and this time around Democrats will lose a lot more ground on Capitol Hill than they did 31 years ago while Watergate’s echoes bounced between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.