Obama's Budget Meets His Needs
by Deacon Blues
Obama presented his $3.7 trillion FY 2012 budget today, and based on the response so far, it's amazing how many people expected this White House to step off the cliff first and damage itself by being bold ahead of the GOP self-inflicted wounds to come.
After watching Obama cement his re-election into place with the post-midterms tax deal and a staff friendlier to big business, did political "realists" seriously expect this president to repeat previous mistakes and start off in the middle and then negotiate rightward, by starting with the Simpson-Bowles Commission recommendations? Apparently, very smart people did, as if we weren't already in the middle of a re-election effort against a crazy opposition hell-bent on political self destruction.
Obama's budget proposal is exactly the document you want to start the debate with. It's just barely credible enough to pass a laugh test, even if it is based on growth estimates that will never be met. It contains not enough defense cuts and just enough discretionary spending cuts to piss off liberals, which is exactly what the White House wants. It calls for an end of the Bush tax cuts after the two-year extension and the elimination of business tax breaks, as it should. And since it comes from this economically-obtuse White House, it contains stupid gimmicks like high speed internet and high speed rail that will do nothing for immediate job growth, while abandoning any further immediate stimulus that could do the trick. In other words, it's entirely consistent with a centrist White House that botched the stimulus but wants to start the debate without leading too much with its chin.
Of course, the GOP was praying that the White House would step out with serious cuts as its opening offer, so it could then reframe the remaining debate far rightward from the center out. The last thing the GOP wanted was for Obama to open with a credible but moderate proposal that would only highlight the extremism behind the scorched-earth, Tea Party proposals that will now follow. If you want proof that the GOP was hoping Obama would make it easy for them and take the lead, understand that Paul Ryan and Jeff Sessions admitted they were waiting for the White House to start in the middle once again. Ryan stated that the GOP alternative wasn't even written yet, waiting to see what the White House did. And Sessions openly said that it was the President's job to start with his entitlement cuts first.
But why should the White House make it easier for the GOP to reframe the debate rightward? Why should the White House help the GOP avoid looking like crazy ghouls with their suggestions? In the midst of a reelection drive, the White House should force Ryan, the GOP, and its Tea Party base to now live up to their rhetoric and actually line up their ideas against the weak tea that Obama offered today. When your opponents are drowning, hand them that anvil. Make the GOP tell us how they will achieve their goals by slashing Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, education and veterans' spending, all while protecting corporations and the wealthy.
Simply put, if the White House wants to end up in the middle while taking political advantage of its crazy opponents, it did today exactly what it should do. Start off credible but don't give away turf unnecessarily. Force the crazies into the sunlight. Then let the sane people still left in Congress eventually find their way to a bipartisan adoption of something close to Simpson-Bowles as we head into 2012. Progressives will hate this, and the economy will stagger at a slower pace than it needed to had this White House been more astute at macro-economics. But the only thing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue cares about right now is backing into another term while letting the Tea Party sink the GOP. And this opening move today is Step One.