Gene Sperling welcomes the confidence fairy back home
Joshua Green reports.
This morning, Gene Sperling, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, appeared before a Democratic business group for what was billed as a speech about the economy after the shutdown, followed by a Q&A session. The White House didn’t push this as a news-making event, so it didn’t get much billing. But I went anyway and was struck by what Sperling had to say, especially about the upcoming budget negotiations that were a product of the deal to reopen the government.
In his usual elliptical and prolix way, Sperling seemed to be laying out the contours of a bargain with Republicans that’s quite a bit different that what most Democrats seem prepared to accept. What stood out to me was how he kept winding back around to the importance of entitlement cuts as part of a deal, as if he were laying the groundwork to blunt liberal anger. Right now, the official Democratic position is that they’ll only accept entitlement cuts in exchange for new revenue—something most Republicans reject. If Sperling mentioned revenue at all, I missed it.
But he dwelled at length, and with some passion, on the need for more stimulus, though he avoided using that dreaded word. He seemed to hint at a budget deal that would trade near-term “investment” (the preferred euphemism for “stimulus’) for long-term entitlement reform. That would be an important shift and one that would certainly upset many Democrats.
Click the link for the exact quotes. What he's saying is that we need more growth and in order to get it we have to inspire "confidence in the long run that we have a path on entitlement spending and revenues that gives confidence in the long-term fiscal position that we're not pushing off unbearable burdens to the next generation." In other words, "welcome home, confidence fairy!"
Recall as well that the president is reported to have opened the door to this:
President Obama made a similar commitment [to preserve Social Security] during a meeting with the Democratic Senate caucus last week, but added that if the Republican offer also included infrastructure money or investment in early childhood education, a major priority of Obama's, it would at least be worth considering. The president added that he was open to reforms to Social Security Disability Insurance.
None of what Sperling said was entirely new. Rather, it was what he chose to emphasize (and not emphasize) that struck me. Afterward, Sperling took a grand total of one question from the audience. I hustled after him to ask if was really proposing an entitlement-cuts-for-stimulus budget deal. Sperling smiled a little awkwardly and said something about how he’d love to negotiate with me. (Not sure what that was about.) But he didn’t rule out a deal that cut entitlements without additional tax revenue, even when I asked him a second time
But don't worry. Everyone assures me that the Democrats will never give up their demand for revenue so there's nothing to see here. Move along....
Update: Or, it's all good as long as the president gets something he thinks is important in return.