Obama’s Gambit

reportint20130410210956123Yesterday President Obama released his proposed budget for the next fiscal year. Its message is clear: the President is attempting to reach out to the Republican members of Congress in a spirit of compromise, hoping they will respond in the same way. But will the gambit work?

As Travis Waldron reported yesterday, Obama’s budget proposal

is aimed at reaching a grand bargain with House and Senate Republicans on the nation’s long-term debt and deficits. The budget … largely mirrors the compromise offer Obama made to Republican leaders during fiscal cliff negotiations at the beginning of the year, as it seeks investments aimed at spurring economic growth and new revenues in exchange for cuts to both domestic discretionary spending and entitlement programs.

Liberals and progressives have been dismayed by what they see being put on the table: long term concessions in the funding of Medicare and Social Security while seeking less in stimulus spending and revenues than had previously been put forward. Republican leaders have denounced it for its stimulus spending and increased revenues through cutting tax loopholes for the rich.

So will this budget receive any traction in Congress?

Ezra Klein gives this evaluation:

As the White House sees it, there are two possible outcomes to this budget. One is that it actually leads to a grand bargain, either now or in a couple of months. Another is that it proves to the press and the public that Republican intransigence is what’s standing in the way of a grand bargain.

In the Spirit of Compromise

Republicans have repeatedly charged that the President has been unwilling to compromise in the past, and has not come forward with any measures that meet their basic demands. Well, now he has.

20100629_johnboehner_250x375Last December, as the House Speaker John Boehner and the President were in negotiations to avert the fiscal cliff, Boehner was reported as “pressing harder for the CPI revision than for other entitlement changes.” Now he has it.

mitch-mcconnell-09081-1In November the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told the Wall Street Journal that if Obama offered entitlement changes such as Chained CPI and Medicare means testing, Republicans would consider new revenue.  Now Obama has.

So what is the Republican response? John Boehner rejected Obama’s mixture of tax hikes and entitlement reforms out of hand. The entitlement reforms are a good start, he says, but if Obama is serious about them, he should not make them conditional on tax increases.

[Boehner’s language was actually much stronger than that. The exact quote is, “If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there’s no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes.”]

So what happened to the principle of give and take across the negotiating table?

300px-Paul_Ryan1Yesterday the House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan was specifically asked on an MSNBC talk show,

You mentioned CPI. It’s something President Obama put on the table that the base doesn’t like. It’s the White House telling the people it’s a sign they’re willing to put something forth to compromise. What are you willing to put on the table that your base won’t like?

His response: “We put up [a] budget that balances,” a reference to his own proposed budget which contains absolutely no concessions to the Democrats or the President.

Hello? We’re talking compromises here. Anything to offer? Intransigence seems to be the operative word.

As Ezra Klein points out, in this budget the President has basically called the Republicans’ bluff. Klein says,

Republicans are, at this point, out of excuses. They can’t say the president isn’t reaching out to them. They can’t say he’s not willing to make painful concessions — or, to rephrase, they can say that, but given all the on-the-record quotes of Republican leaders demanding the White House accept means-testing Medicare and chained-CPI, no one will take them seriously. The White House is calling their bluff. The question is whether, as the pressure mounts, they double down against compromise, or they begin to fold.

We shall soon see.

About Edward Clayton
Edward Clayton grew up in the US but has lived in Canada for the last 4 decades. He is a long time peace activist and committed to issues of social justice and good government. He reports on Canadian, American, and global politics from a Canadian perspective.

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