Slate‘s John Dickerson all but declares Obama’s budget strategy to be triangulation:
The Obama strategy relies on theater. There is nothing substantively new about Obama’s budget plan. He has offered versions of the same plan privately to Republican leaders, but now he’s trying to go around those leaders. One requirement for building trust with Republican senators is putting these offers on paper. This is meant to show individual senators that he is making good on the promises he has made in private conversations, but it also offers them the cover they need with their constituents. If senators are going to flirt with tax increases, they have to show their voters that they purchased something in return. Now they can point to the president’s public effort on entitlements. But wait, how do we know that Obama is really making a sacrifice? Just look at how upset his supporters are.
I generally accept that triangulation helped Bill Clinton out during the mid-1990s. In general, it’s a good idea for presidents to maintain some level of independence from their Congressional party, and I believe that Mitt Romney’s inability to do so hurt him politically in the campaign. However, to quote Lou Reed, those were different times. For one thing, the public’s attitudes toward Democrats and the GOP were more or less reversed compared to what they are now, so Clinton was wise to create a distinction between himself and a less-popular Democrat brand. In any event, now it’s the GOP’s brand that’s in tatters, not so much the Democrats’, so such a strategy isn’t strictly necessary. Second, polarization has increased tremendously since the early 1990s, and the simple fact is that there are fewer swing voters/radical centrists/Perotistas out there to appeal to with such a strategy. There are basically hard partisans and low-info voters at this point, and the latter need to be presented with a simple, emotionally potent argument rather than a chain of logic and assertions. Third, the power of the mainstream media has diminished tremendously over the same time period, while the power of partisan media and ideological interests within the Democratic Party has increased greatly. Simply put, the factors that made triangulation a smart strategy for Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s don’t really hold anymore. Mobilizing activists and party actors is where it’s at these days I think, but this other, old-fashioned thinking is par for the course in a White House full of Clinton alums.
The defense of this strategy is not so compelling, either:
If the grand bargain gambit fails, Obama will be able to campaign against Republicans as being unreasonable. He took a risk by offering cuts to entitlements, angered his party, and Republicans still wouldn’t budge. This is another way in which those protests help the larger cause. Later, if the big deal fails, the size of the protests will remind people how much more willing the president was to take a risk for an agreement than Republicans were. Chained CPI will not have passed, and Democrats will be in a stronger position politically.
What’s sad about this is that Obama’s budget isn’t that bad overall. There are definitely things in it that liberals could run with, but none of that is going to happen because Obama decided to include chained CPI specifically to placate Republicans, and now that proposal has subsumed the rest of the document in the minds of liberals. I’m assuming this was deliberate, and this is how they wanted it to go down. Nevertheless, Obama is fighting a two-front war now, and as both Wilhelm II and Hitler learned, those are damn difficult to win. While “Republicans wouldn’t let me raise taxes and cut Social Security” might or might not be a winning argument among Washington pundits, I’m really not sure that it is going to be a killer weapon against Republicans in 2014. Call me crazy.
I don’t know that I really have too much more to say about this, but it deserves some notice:
Obama has repeatedly championed a set of government investments that he argues would expand the economy and strengthen the middle class, including bolstering early-childhood education, spending more on research and development, and upgrading the nation’s roads and railways. He has said his comfortable reelection victory in November shows the country is with him.
But none of those policies have come close to being enacted. Instead, after returning this weekend from a trip to the Middle East, Obama is set to sign a government funding measure that leaves in place the across-the-board cuts known as sequestration — a policy that undermines many of the goals he laid out during the 2012 campaign.
Obama thinks the cuts are, in his words, “dumb,” and he says they will slow the economy and harm priorities by cutting spending on education, research and development, and many other programs. Yet Obama now finds himself enacting a broad domestic policy that he doesn’t support and that he believes will harm the country.
The article contains some Obama-ites saying that the sequester is eventually going to go, but at this point they’ve not exactly proven very shrewd when talking about what Republicans will do. Seems clear that we’re stuck with the dumb cuts that everybody was sure wouldn’t happen, except for me, sort of. I thought they’d roll much of it back later this month, and they rolled some of it back, which puts me closer to what happened than most people.
Barack Obama is not a bad president, and has improved palpably in many ways since his early days in office. There have been many positive accomplishments over the past four-plus years. But deficits and budget politics continue to be the Administration’s Achilles heel. The fiscal cliff/sequestration battle smacked of self-assuredness in this area that wasn’t warranted, since ultimately the Republicans did the most predictable thing imaginable–obstruct and do nothing–which apparently came as a complete shock to them, an incredible admission of out-of-touchiness. Anyway, for whatever reason, the president would rather have the sequestration cuts than nothing, so the most likely scenarios are either a indefinitely-starved public sector or a permanently-shrunk welfare state. That 2012 victory was sure worth it.
You might imagine I’m sympathetic to this perspective:
“I think they brought it on themselves to the extent that they validated the deficit issue,” Mishel said. “It was always the case that the actual budget policy being pursued contradicted the rhetoric in the campaign. Now it’s even worse.”
I highly doubt Obama’s support was what legitimized deficits as an issue, you can’t put the myopia of D.C. entirely on him. And it’s not like all that pressure isn’t part of the context in which he has to operate. But, yeah, while it’s hardly incoherent to support both stimulus and long-term deficit reduction, or increased discretionary spending and entitlement cuts, it’s also unsurprising that this nuanced, complicated position has failed to jam up the STOP THE SPENDING!!! buzzsaw. I’d really hoped Obama had learned this after the debt ceiling crisis, but it’s now clear to me that he can’t learn and won’t learn when it comes to this issue.
(h/t Political Wire)
Lev’s post about Obama’s frustrating “me-too!” obsession with deficits put me in mind of a cartoon I’ve always wished someone would come up with. … So I just came up with it myself.
The other day I was thinking about just how deficit-centric Obama’s presidency has been to date. A lot of people peg the Administration’s shift from stimulus to deficits as being in late 2009, though this ignores the fact that the Affordable Care Act is mostly a deficit bill that just happens to extend health coverage and establish some new markets and regulations. Really, deficit politics is something of a leitmotif of the Obama Administration post-crisis, the major exceptions being immigration and financial regulatory reform. Given how perfunctorily the latter was pushed, it merely proves the rule.
But if you see Obama as a deficit hawk pretty much from the start–certainly after the TARP and stimulus, when he was branded as a free spender, you kind of have to–it provides a possible answer to why it was that the Administration put climate/energy on the backburner and focused on healthcare instead. I’ve heard a number of rationales on this: that the interests of Democrats were united around healthcare in a way they weren’t around energy, that Obama himself had become personally invested in that fight and wanted to tackle it first, mainly those. Of course, the climate bill (ACES) actually got a large amount of bipartisan support in the House relative to Obama-era norms (8 GOP votes), and action on climate could have been a more natural fit for reconciliation rules than healthcare ever was, though I’m not enough of a legislative expert to authoritatively speak to this. The interests that opposed a climate bill are mainly interests that support conservative Republicans, and only a small number of Democrats are joined at the hip to oil and coal interests. I don’t really buy the first argument.
As for the second, the other way of looking at it is that ACES didn’t do any real deficit reduction:
[E]nacting the legislation would increase revenues by $873 billion over the 2010-2019 period and would increase direct spending by $864 billion over that 10-year period. In total, CBO and JCT estimate that enacting the legislation would reduce future budget deficits by about $4 billion over the 2010-2014 period and by about $9 billion over the 2010-2019 period
A billion a year is a drop in the bucket. Of course, applying the bulk of that $873 billion to general revenues would be a pretty good chunk of deficit reduction, but the politics of the issue are such that refunding the revenues back to the public is a necessity, both so as to avoid getting the thing dubbed an “energy tax” as well as to secure support from less liberal members. ACES actually did obey the Norquist pledge, mostly, which is why it did get a few GOP votes in the House. A bill just applying the revenues (minus enforcement costs) to the deficit would probably have played out similarly to healthcare, with the same vitriol over taxes and the like. “Get the government out of my gas tank” and “driving panels” would have gone viral, no doubt.
Considering this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama looked at those numbers, was advised that doing it differently would make passage much dicier, and figured healthcare ought to go first since with that he could accomplish both a liberal goal and a centrist goal, expanding coverage and bending the cost curve. Of course, dealing with the deficit is going to be a lot harder if we go through drought and famine in the future because fertile farmland goes barren due to climate effects, and while 16% of people being without healthcare in this country is simply outrageous, climate change is going to affect 100% of the people in this country (and the world), and its effects are likely going to fall hardest on that 16% through higher food prices and the like. Climate should have been the top priority they dealt with, and now that Obama’s deficit fixation is a known quantity, it provides a reasonably compelling answer as to why it wasn’t.
It is merely a theory that fits the facts, though. I guess we’ll have to wait until the glut of books after the Obama Administration is over to get a better sense of it. I sort of hope that there’s a better reason than that Barack Obama got too focused on deficits to give fixing the planet a shot.
Why does obama have 88% of the black vote? Because 88% of them are low information voters or they vote skin color or sadly they think that obama cares.
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