Thursday, April 14, 2011

Obama Opens Up the Debate

Politico wonders what President Obama set out to achieve in Wednesday's debt speech blockbuster. The speech began with reminder of why government is important. He addressed the plutocratic nature of the Republican plan to shift health care costs onto the elderly and middle class while slashing taxes for the wealthy. He proposed a four-part, balanced package, including one quarter that subsumed the only serious Republican proposal: domestic discretionary spending cuts.
But the combative tenor of Obama’s remarks, which included a swipe at his potential 2012 GOP challengers, may have scuttled the stated purpose of the entire enterprise — to start negotiations with Republicans on a workable bipartisan approach to attacking the deficit.
What Politico fails to understand is that the President feels no need to reach his grand bargain before 2012. He can negotiate with the 113th Congress or even the 114th one if he wins reelection.

The value of structuring the speech within a vision of America, then comparing whose plan would get America into the 21st century without seriously hobbling it in the global marketplace, is that it provides exactly the kind of contrast that is helpful for voters in an election. Unlike President Obama's signal achievements like the Affordable Care Act--and major defeats like the extension of the Bush Tax Cuts for income above $250k--that occured in the dark recesses of Congress, the debate about the broad outlines of the role of the American government in the 21st century requires public input. It requires a referrendum on the ideas put forth by both parties.

The Affordable Care Act was the product of such a referrendum, but the debt and the contours of the American state was not the major issue in 2008. Health Care reform, federal failures to perform core governmental functions (see: FEMA), and the economy were the major issues. As Republicans would have it, government's role in the economy will be the central issue of the 2012 election. It is also a debate that Republicans will lose handily.

President Obama doesn't need to negotiate with the current Congress, and any attempt to do so would be disastrous. We already know that Republicans the 112th Congress have an unappeasable appetite for hostage taking.

At the same time, President Obama is offering to cut domestic discretionary spending by nearly a trillion dollars over 12 years. This is a genuine olive branch to Republicans, but not the ones in Congress. It's as if President Obama intends to campaign from the actual center of American politics, picking up the impressive share of moderate Republicans that he captured in 2008. The Affordable Care Act included the moderate Republican ideas (see: individual mandate), and even his idea of a beginning bargaining position includes more budget axing to effective programs than his party wants.

If this is a grand strategy to force the Republican party into the dustbin of history, replacing it with a more grassroots, more... well... democratic party, it kind of makes sense. But if the President expects to fight an energized Republican base with a dispirted and unengaged Democratic base, his current budget proposal makes little sense. The tea party and its radical attacks on government, taxes, and the middle class have posed a number of difficult choices for moderate Repbulicans. Their prefered candidates face impossibly long odds in Republican primaries in most districts, and the Presidential nomination contest is likely to differ only in the amount of money funneled into the fight.

That money will not save institutional Republicans from the nearly-institutionalized Republicans. After all, Michele Bachmann outraised Mitt Romney in first quarter fundraising. Early nomination contests, especially Iowa, tend to be driven more by social conservatives than pragmatic considerations (I believe that the caucus system exacerbates this tendency as well). The Republican challenger in 2012 may have a fired up base, but exceptionally small reach. This is also the calculation drawing Trump into the publicity waters surrounding the Presidential race. It's a mystery, however, why he's attempting to out-crazy the in-out-crazyable.

With a large progressive push towards electing a House that the President can work with, it makes sense that the President is laying out his general argument for a functioning government that doesn't take away the benefits that workers have paid for and give it away in a dividend check to the super wealthy. Either Republicans can make a deal with him on those terms, or they can come out of the 2012 elections without either house of Congress.

No comments:

Post a Comment