Does Obama still think his Grand Bargain was smart politics?
My friend DebCoop reminded me of this interview by Jonathan Singer with then Senator Obama back in 2007:
I asked Obama why he would use the word "crisis", particularly given the fact that the Social Security trust fund will not run out until 2042 or 2052 (depending on who is doing the analysis), and that even then the program will provide greater benefits than it does today, even accounting for inflation.
Barack Obama: I think the point your making is why talk about it right now. Is that right?
Jonathan Singer: Yeah. And why use the term "crisis"?
Obama: It is a long-term problem. I know that people, including you, are very sensitive to the concern that we repeat anything that sounds like George Bush. But I have been very clear in fighting privatization. I have been adamant about the fact that I am opposed to it. What I believe is that it is a long-term problem that we should deal with now. And the sooner the deal with it then the better off it's going to be.
So the notion that somehow because George Bush was trying to drum up fear in order to execute [his] agenda means that Democrats shouldn't talk about it at all I think is a mistake. This is part of what I meant when I said we're constantly reacting to the other side instead of setting our own terms for the debate, but also making sure we are honest and straight forward about the issues that we're concerned about.
By the time he was inaugurated he "set his own terms" by folding this "long term problem" into his Grandiose Bargain:
I asked the president-elect, "At the end of the day, are you really talking about over the course of your presidency some kind of grand bargain? That you have tax reform, healthcare reform, entitlement reform including Social Security and Medicare, where everybody in the country is going to have to sacrifice something, accept change for the greater good?"
"Yes," Obama said.
"And when will that get done?" I asked.
"Well, right now, I’m focused on a pretty heavy lift, which is making sure we get that reinvestment and recovery package in place. But what you described is exactly what we’re going to have to do. What we have to do is to take a look at our structural deficit, how are we paying for government? What are we getting for it? And how do we make the system more efficient?"
"And eventually sacrifice from everyone?" I asked.
"Everybody’s going to have to give. Everybody’s going to have to have some skin in the game," Obama said.
A month later they convened the fiscal summit and out Pete Peterson's BFF David Walker was all signed on to the new "terms":
WALKER: You touched on the remarks on the balance sheet. As a former controller, we are $11 trillion in the hole on the balance sheet and the problem's not the balance sheet. It is off balance sheet. $45 trillion in unfunded obligations. You mentioned in January about the need to achieve a Grand Bargain involving budget process, social security, taxes, health care reform. You're 110% right to do that. Question is, how do we do it?
Candidly, I think it takes an extraordinary process that engages the American people, provides for fast track consideration and with your leadership that can happen. But that's what it's going to take.
OBAMA: Okay. Well, I appreciate that. Again, when we distribute the notes coming out of the task forces, I want to make sure that people are responding both in terms of substance and in terms of process. Because we're going need both in order to make some progress on this.
I only bring this up to emphasize, once again, that this desire for a "comprehensive" solution to the "structural deficit" (and every other possible problem for the next 50 years) did not originate with the Republicans. That was the President's vision. And the fact is that the Republicans eagerly signed on. The only real difference between them is the president's insistence that "the rich pay a little bit more."
Somebody should ask the President if, after everything that's happened, he still believes that was a smart political move --- and if he still thinks he's having this debate on his own terms.