The Politics of the President's Plan

The Politics of the President's Plan

by digby

I've had some time to digest the president's deficit plan and watch his speech. As to the specifics, there are lots of wonkish articles out there breaking down the details, so I'll leave it to you to find them. I'm just going to discuss how I think this works politically, since the likelihood of anything resembling this plan getting out of the Super Committee is highly unlikely. This is a political document not a negotiation.

My first thought is that it appears the administration has finally decided that there's nothing to be gained with exclusively delivering post-partisan pablum. It certainly sounds as though he's thrown down the gauntlet. Unfortunately, the President appears to want to have two fights going into this election, one over job creation and one over whose plan to cut the deficit is better, which I think is a confusing waste of time. (Focus like a laser beam on jobs and tell the Republicans they'll have to go through you to get to the safety net and I think people would instinctively understand that he's on their side.) But that isn't this president's style and perhaps it wouldn't be believable if he did it. So, this is at least a change of tactics, more confrontational in tone, which is his best hope for reelection since it turns out people aren't really all that impressed that he's the most reasonable guy in the room if it appears that he gets punk'd every time.

Unfortunately, I think the decision to include Medicare cuts (even though they seem to be provider based and means tested) is a big mistake politically. The Democrats needed to run against Ryan, and it was clean and simple before, now it's muddled and incoherent. Those provider cuts, if they were absolutely necessary, could certainly have waited until after the election. (And opening up the can of worms of military retirement benefits is daft. I don't know why anyone would dream of doing such a thing in an election year.)But the president is in a tough position having bought into austerity a long time ago and now it's hung around his neck, impeding his available solutions. Still, he shouldn't have touched one of the best arguments the Democrats have. I'm fairly surprised they did it.

Threatening a veto is good stuff. He should do more of it. But he frames it as a "shared sacrifice" so that people still believe it's right to trade essential middle class benefits for millionaire chump change. I hate that formulation and I think it's a mistake to perpetuate it. However, just making any threat is a good thing -- sounds like he's drawing lines in the sand and considering the political dynamics in the congress I think it makes it less likely that any of these cuts will actually happen.

Overall, I think the obvious takeaway is that the White House isn't looking to make any more deals to please Wall Street and burnish its "post-partisan" image before the election. To that, I can only say "thank God." The country could really use a working government right now, but since we don't have one the best we an hope for is one that that does no harm. If this speech signals gridlock --- and I think it does --- breathe a sigh of relief. The country can't take too much more of these austerity deals.

Update: Ezra Klein has a piece up about the administration's change of course to a more confrontational approach.

As it happens this is what the much loathed, allegedly unreasonable left, knowing the opposition as it did, have been desperately begging them to do for two years. The White House's strategic rigidity and unwillingness to pivot from their post-partisan stance and chasing a big austerity "deal" in the face of an unbending right wing(even as everybody was always jabbering about how they were pivoting when they weren't) has been one of my pet peeves from the beginning. The quixotic pursuit of a Grand Bargain in a time of immediate economic hardship was always an inappropriate goal on both political and policy grounds.

Like I said, better late than never, but it would appear that once again the left is relegated to premature anti-fascist status instead of being granted the respect of being right. Plus ca change ...