The "Only Grown-up" Strategy
The NY Times this morning:
Anticipation of President Obama’s plan for creating jobs while cutting deficits, now heightened by the scheduling controversy over his prime time address to Congress next Thursday, has turned on a question: Will he go big and highlight his sharp differences with Republicans, or will he be pragmatic and downsize his ideas to get Republican votes?
The challenge for Mr. Obama is that he must do both.
Despite Republican opposition to spending measures or tax cuts to spur job creation and economic growth, the president is under pressure to fight for a significant stimulus program. The demands come not only from Democrats, but also from many economists, financial analysts and executives who fear a relapse into recession.
But as administration officials are well aware, another display of partisan gridlock this fall could again provoke a downgrade of the United States’ credit and market upheavals that would further batter consumer confidence.
Note the passive voice there. This "display of partisan gridlock" in the face of what Democrats, economists, financial analysts and executives agree needs to be done is the fault of only only one party --- the Republicans. They behave like thugs, despite the horrible consequences, and the press acts as though it's a "both sides do it" phenomenon --- which it's President Obama's obligation to avoid.
I hold no brief for the president's strategy or policy of the past couple of years and I believe he made a bad judgment of the highest magnitude by pushing his Grand Bargain and fetishing deficits.(And it's true that his promise to "change Washington" has contributed to this as well.) Many of our problems stem from the absurd consensus that we needed to cut spending in a weak economy and his rather bizarre insistence on pretending that Republicans were partners rather than saboteurs long after their intentions were crystal clear made it worse. However, if he wishes to change course now and embrace policies designed to actually fix our current problems rather than "instill confidence" by fixing problems that won't manifest themselves for another couple of decades (if at all), it will not be the Democrats' fault if the Republicans in congress refuse to do what's necessary to put people back to work.
It's very late in the game to change perceptions about the economy, particularly since it is actually deteriorating, so the election will be held against a background of recessionary angst regardless of what he proposes. But according to this report, they've at least finally accepted that the Grand Bargain isn't the big vote getter they assumed it would be and that attacks on the safety net might just be counterproductive:
People familiar with the White House’s planning say Mr. Obama will focus in his speech on the specifics of his immediate job-creation plans, but leave the details of his longer-term deficit reduction program for later. They say he does not want to dilute the political impact of his jobs message with controversies, especially with his Democratic base, over deficit-reduction ideas like raising the eligibility age for future Medicare recipients.
If that's true, chalk up a tiny little victory for the professional left, whose annoying caterwauling may have saved them from themselves --- temporarily, at least.
But according to this, they won't be going big on jobs:
The signals from the White House suggest that Mr. Obama’s agenda will not be so bold as to satisfy many liberals clamoring for New Deal-style programs. On Tuesday, 68 progressive groups wrote to Mr. Obama urging him “to move beyond these half-measures designed to appeal to a narrow ideological minority who have repeatedly shown their unwillingness to negotiate.”
Still, they say Mr. Obama’s plan will be far more ambitious than would have been expected just months ago, given the weakened economy. He has concluded, Democrats say, that Republicans will oppose anything he proposes, and with an election looming, Mr. Obama must make clear what he stands for.
Expected among those stimulus proposals is an extension for another year of the payroll tax cut for workers that Mr. Obama and Republicans agreed to last December, which has meant $1,000 more this year for the average family. Mr. Obama has been considering whether to seek an expansion of the payroll tax cut for employers. And he is expected to propose a separate tax credit for employers who increase their payrolls.
The total cost could reach several hundred billion dollars. But the White House figures that tax cuts have the best chance of Republican support.
Actually, it's not likely they will even go along with that. They are so emboldened at this point that they are one step away from mooning the President during his speech.
But according to this report they know that and are going with the "only grown-up" strategy:
That sets up an opportunity, as Democrats see it, to saddle Republicans with the blame for a weak economy.
“The president wants to work with Republicans and Democrats to create jobs and grow the economy,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “If nothing happens, it will be because Republicans in Congress made a conscious decision to do nothing. And that is a choice that will have tremendous consequences for the country.”
I guess they haven't got much choice, but the danger of his being seen as Boehner's catspaw is becoming acute now and this strategy plays right into it. Doing it a year ago before the GOP had racked up so many victories, it might have been possible to put them on the defensive, but at this point the people seem to be attributing the problem to presidential weakness as much as GOP obstructionism and that's a real problem. By refusing to pick fights back when he had the juice, he's now firmly entrenched in people's minds as a pushover. I'm not sure that complaining about the other side refusing to do the right thing at this point is helpful. But again, there isn't a whole lot to work with, is there?
There is some good news in this piece. Having accepted that the GOP is probably not going to sign on to anything, they are seeking ways to use the executive branch for job creation. It's unknown whether any of these ideas will be useful or whether the administration will have the courage to follow through despite what is sure to be a full blown Republican shitstorm, but at least they have recognized that there may be more to governing than playing chicken with GOP lunatics. Despite the current consensus that the presidency of the US is not much more than a ceremonial job, the fact is that he does have power and he needs to use it. Even if it makes Eric Cantor wail.
Update: Looks like polluting freely the environment is going to be the big sweetener for business. Too bad for the humans and animals who have to breathe.