Obama Dumps Policy for Politics

There is a brief respite today after the flurry of White House summits between President Obama and leaders from Congress. The two sides spent the week negotiating a way to bridge the impasse on raising the debt ceiling that, if not resolved by Aug 2, threatens to permanently alter the United State's credit standing. Obama went before reporters this morning for his second press conference of the week.

His preferred solution remains the proposal developed at the White House for a large deficit reduction of $4. "We have a unique opportunity to do something big," he said. Obama boasted his willingness to challenge the objections from members of his own party, something Obama's plan certainly inspires. The proposed deficit reduction would reduce outlays in Social Security, raise the age of entry for Medicare, and impose draconian cuts across the board on discretionary spending. It should be a dream deal for the Republicans to accept, however Obama is asking for a pittance in tax increases,

As Matt Yglesias put it:

Barack Obama really and truly wants a grand bargain on the deficit. One doesn’t say this kind of thing at a press conference, but you could easily imagine him saying, “Look, Republicans, I agree with you — I want to enact steep cuts in spending, but to sell my base on it you need to throw me some tax hikes.”

At the press conference, Obama worked to frame his eagerness to slash as actually a means to an end for future liberal policies. "If you are a progressive, you should be as concerned about deficit and debt just as much as if you're a conservative," he said. By Obama's reasoning, any investment in infrastructure or research is dead in the water from the start while the debt looms large. Accepting cuts now will allow Democrats to deflate that argument and move on to tackling issues like education funding or climate change.

I'm increasingly convinced that Obama is seeking the $4 trillion deal not because he thinks it is the best option for the progressive policy, but because it is the best move for his reelection campaign next year. Yesterday, Ezra Klein laid out five reasons Obama wants the largest deficit reduction deal, with this explanation as the most convincing option:

Getting Obama reelected is important: The White House believes striking a major deficit deal would be good for Obama’s reelection chances. They also believe that getting Obama reelected would be good for the priorities that Democrats care about. President Mitt Romney’s spending cuts would be worse than theirs, his hostility to taxes would be more implacable than theirs, and he’d repeal or hollow out both the health-care law and financial regulation.

If Obama was strictly hoping to secure the best policy, he would have jumped at accepting Mitch McConnell

's proposal. It is a convoluted plan that would essentially raise the debt ceiling without any guaranteed cuts to spending. But that plan would force Obama to take ownership of the debt ceiling by raising it himself multiple times before the 2012 election. McConnell's intention is to force Obama into a negative political corner, but so what? The 2012 election is long off and a bump to the eligibility age of in Medicare would weigh equally heavy around his neck. Taking this minor risk for his reelection should have been worth defending the social safety net. But Obama did everything in his power to focus on the necessity of spending cuts during his press conference, dismissing McConnell's plan as the "least attractive option."

"The American people are paying attention to who is trying to
get something done," Obama said this morning. They "don't want to hear a bunch of posturing." He'll have to hope that voters next fall don't realize the Republicans weren't the only ones selling out what's best for the country during the debt ceiling.

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