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Tilting at Windmills

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April 12, 2011

THE SIMPSON/BOWLES FREAK-OUT.... President Obama will present his agenda for long-term debt reduction tomorrow, but there's more than a little scuttlebutt today about what his vision will include. In fact, there's been quite a bit of handwringing and finger-pointing, following media reports like this one.

President Obama plans this week to respond to a Republican blueprint for tackling the soaring national debt by promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission rather than introducing his own detailed plan.

Obama will not blaze a fresh path when he delivers a much-anticipated speech Wednesday afternoon at George Washington University. Instead, he is expected to offer support for the commission's work and a related effort underway in the Senate to develop a strategy for curbing borrowing. Obama will frame the approach as a responsible alternative to the 2012 plan unveiled last week by House Republicans, according to people briefed by the White House.

If accurate, this is cause for great concern. The Simpson/Bowles plan wasn't just the wrong solution on deficit reduction, it's also a center-right proposal. It would be a disaster if the White House presented a conservative plan in response to a very conservative plan.

Of course, other reports paint a different, less discouraging picture.

President Obama will call for shrinking the nation's long-term deficits by raising taxes on wealthier Americans and requiring them to pay more into Social Security, drawing a barbed contrast with a Republican plan to save money by deeply slashing Medicare, Medicaid and other domestic spending.

Obama will offer some spending cuts, including trims to the Pentagon's budget, but his speech Wednesday is likely to provide Americans with a vivid choice between higher taxes or fewer benefits, issues that will color the national debate straight through the 2012 election.

To be sure, if Obama takes the stage tomorrow and embraces Simpson/Bowles as his own, I'll be severely unhappy. I wasn't a fan of the fiscal commission -- which, by the way, never had enough support to actually endorse the Simpson/Bowles plan -- and think this would be a horrible place for Democrats to start talks on long-term debt reduction.

But here's the thing: I rather doubt the Simpson/Bowles plan will be Obama's plan. It seems far more likely to me that the president will present a very different vision, and make it seem as if it's the Simpson/Bowles plan.

Indeed, just this morning, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), who has solid progressive credentials, spoke at the Center for American Progress, and slammed Paul Ryan's House GOP plan. Van Hollen added, however, that Simpson/Bowles offers a "basic approach ... which is to look at both sides of the deficit equation, that is revenue and spending" that can serve as "an important starting point."

That intensified the freak-out -- Look! Van Hollen is endorsing Simpson/Bowles, too! -- but it shouldn't have. All the Maryland Democrat was talking about was the "basic approach" of Simpson/Bowles, because it included a combination of spending cuts and tax increases. Van Hollen is endorsing looking at both sides of the ledger, which is the standard Democratic line.

Ezra added this afternoon that his White House sources are saying the president's won't "primarily be an endorsement of Simpson-Bowles," and "this will make more sense tomorrow."

To make a short story long, I'm suggesting we put the apoplexy on hold for 24 hours. Atrios said this morning, "I guess we should just wait until tomorrow."

It's probably the smartest sentence I've read all day.

Steve Benen 1:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (35)

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Ok, I'll wait on the apoplexy. But this is a "make or break" moment for the Obama presidency, and we'll see what stuff he's made of tomorrow. Wily and progressive? Or weak and warmed-over country club republican? I sure hope it's the former, because that's the candidate I voted for.

Posted by: sjw on April 12, 2011 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Though I still believe President Obama is most probably the smartest person in the room, I am beginning to think he isn't a very good burden bearer.

For us, Pres. Obama needs to bear the burden of pulling the far Right out of its funk and calling our cultural nay-sayers out regarding their lack of civility and caring!

President Obama needs to more often use the bully pulpit, and begin to define a vision for us all - one that promotes fair tax policies, fair social policies, and fair economic policies. This should be easy considering just how unfair things are right now.

The uber-rich are shirking their ability to stand up and share in the pain the rest of us are experiencing, instead of continuing to feed of the public trough through abhorrant tax cuts.

We Middle Class Ameridcans know this, but the only one who has a big enough voice to give credence to our woes is President Obama. And, he seems to be sequestered among the village idiots of DC! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 12, 2011 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

This is an idiotic post. When they they float a trial balloon like this, if it's unacceptable then people better goddamn well freak out so there's a chance of getting them to back off a bit. After the speech it will be far too late.

Posted by: Steve LaBonne on April 12, 2011 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, let's see what he says on Wednesday.

But, Obama, and others, have long cited S-B as a "Roadmap", "Menu of Options" or other such language, indicating, to me anyway, that the intent is to cherrypick to low hanging fruit, and negotiate our way up from there, as opposed to full-scale implementation. There are no hard numbers, no real goals, and no absolutes...It's a well laid out guide.

Posted by: bignose on April 12, 2011 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

If Obama wants to cut the deficit he can concentrate on taking the millions of unemployed consumers of government assistance and turning them into taxpaying contributors to the economy.

Short term, we have lots of people who need work. We have lots of infrastructure projects that need to be done -- projects that will only get more expensive the longer we put off dealing with them.

Intermediate term, we need REAL reform of Wall Street before the NEXT Bubble-Bust-and-Bailout cycle drives us all the way into a second Great Depression.

Long term, we need to control exploding health care costs by adopting the best parts of the European single-payer systems -- the ones that have every other western country paying HALF what America does for health care and getting as good or better results.

OR, Obama can continue trying to find a "middle ground" between "R" and "D", which means the economy will end up stuck in "N" with the engine revving but the car not going anywhere.

Yes, I know these ideas won't pass today. But they lay out a plan that is based on Democratic principles that have actually worked. It's a better place to begin the debate than where Obama usually wants to start -- halfway between the center and the far-right Republican proposals.

Posted by: SteveT on April 12, 2011 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

One wonders why the man bothers to give the speech when everyone has predetermined what he will say to their own satisfaction if not necessarily with any accuracy.

Posted by: gelfling545 on April 12, 2011 at 1:42 PM | PERMALINK

If he is smart he should have a re-knowned economist or 2 on stage w/ easels breaking down exactly what the GOP (Ryan) plan will do to all medicare recipients in the most stark language as possible...in other words scrare the crap out of them!

Posted by: drinksforall on April 12, 2011 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

It would be nice if this plan was given any consideration:



Posted by: c u n d gulag on April 12, 2011 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

So why should we believe he's going to do anything other than start from a center-right position, compromise with the craziest minority of the Republican fringe, and then call it a victory?

Posted by: doubtful on April 12, 2011 at 1:44 PM | PERMALINK

Anybody who thinks that one Obama speech will show "what stuff he's made of" hasn't been paying attention over the past five or six years. One Obama speech is just a piece of a much larger strategy.

But so-called "progressives" are never happy unless they're bitchin' and moanin' 'bout sumtin'. So I'm sure a lot of you will find the end of the world in tomorrow's speech. Hell, some of you have already found it today! Do you get extra points for pre-emptive bitching?

Posted by: chi res on April 12, 2011 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

Even the “basic” or balanced approach of spending cuts and tax increases is playing on the American RightWing’s court, as other than unpaid for spending on three wars, a drug plan for the pharmaceutical companies and other Corporate Welfare, spending is not the problem, and even where it is a problem Obama won’t be targeting the cuts there.

Posted by: Joe Friday on April 12, 2011 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK


I mean who the f*ck does that? duh?

I love you steve but really, this post was way too long for all this speculation.

Posted by: Alli on April 12, 2011 at 1:56 PM | PERMALINK

"It seems far more likely to me that the president will present a very different vision, and make it seem as if it's the Simpson/Bowles plan."

Ah, well, that's different. No, wait. That's exactly the same. No, wait. That makes absolutely no sense. Except, you know, yay Obama, I guess. Somehow.

Posted by: Tom Allen on April 12, 2011 at 2:00 PM | PERMALINK

This isn't brilliant politics, just not-dumb politics. The commission provides a plausible cover for restoring Clinton-era tax rates across the board. When the public screams bloody murder, Dems offer the compromise of targeting the over-$250K club. If the commission does a good sales job (I know, I know, bear with me), then Democrats can push for the works. A good sales job would include specifics on job creation, deficit reduction and improved government services.

The commission's very existence, though, means Dems lack the confidence to sell a tax-cut rollback without some political cover. I can't say they're wrong. The GOP will constantly refer to this as the "Communist Tax Hike Commission" and worse. I say, go with it: The commission should scare everyone's pants off and recommend Eisenhower-era tax rates to stave off certain doom. Might open the door to a compromise that's actually constructive.

Posted by: beejeez on April 12, 2011 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Typical obamabot post - even though it would be wise to send a strong message to the prez BEFORE he jumps on the bogus simpson/kill SS bandwagon he created; you want to shut down that dialog.

I know, war crimes, crimes against humanity, treason, indefinite detention w/o due process, endless capitulation to repugs on everything budget, and even obama's legal opinion that he has the right to murder US citizens is all OK cuz now its YOUR THUG.

Nothin' to see here if obama wants to kill the most successful federal program of all timew - move along and keep your mouth shut!

Posted by: bart on April 12, 2011 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

I'm holding my breath and crossing my fingers. I want Obama to come out swinging FDR style; is that too audacious to hope for?

Posted by: Mitch on April 12, 2011 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

But so-called "progressives" are never happy unless they're bitchin' and moanin' 'bout sumtin'. -chi res

So, perhaps a quoteless, real progressive like you could tell us what part of the budget was progressive? You've certainly had your fun the last couple of days telling everyone that Obama is a god for supposedly getting 98% of what he wanted.

Please, do tell. Which part of the budge propels the country forward? Which part creates jobs? Which part lends a helping hand to those who need it now more than ever?

Seriously, us "progressives" want to know, oh enlightened one?

You're as predictable and disappointing as Obama.

Posted by: doubtful on April 12, 2011 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

That intensified the freak-out -- Look! Van Hollen is endorsing Simpson/Bowles, too! -- but it shouldn't have.

Hey, we're talking about progressives here. Freaking out is what we do.

Posted by: AK Liberal on April 12, 2011 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

It seems far more likely to me that the president will present a very different vision, and make it seem as if it's the Simpson/Bowles plan.

Bizarre logic. Obama CHOSE Simpson and Bowles for the commission. He could have picked a Republican that was sympathetic to the continued existence of Social Security and Medicare in their current formations. I know there aren't a lot of them, but Obama only had to find one.

Obama also could have picked a more liberal Democrat if he wanted to.

Obama picked these two guys because he believed that they would lead the commission in the direction that he wanted it to go. Bowles and Simpson produced a plan. Sure, it isn't a plan from the full commission. But because it came from Bowles and Simpson it is probably more reflective of Obama's perspective than a full commission plan.

Anyway, Benen wants us to believe that Obama disagrees with Bowles and Simpson. And intends to propose a completely different plan. But Obama will PRETEND it is the same as the Simpson-Bowles plan. Why? Who knows? Apparently the world can't go forward with deficit reduction without the stamp of approval from Bowles and Simpson.

Posted by: square1 on April 12, 2011 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

I think I've been pretty understanding. Willing to believe that there is a long term strategy here that is about more than preserving his job. And I still feel that way because the sources for this talk about S/B are suspect in my book. But if it turns out that this is the case. That this is where he is at he has lost me, and I will do everything I can to bring him or anyone else who supports this position down. because it is wrong.

Posted by: SW on April 12, 2011 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Simpson is a buffoon and fool, and why Obama even put him on that "committee" is beyond belief. That Obama would let him and the other guy come up with their own plan, NOT the committee's plan, is equally beyond belief. Having said that, it's certainly possible Obama is going to embrace parts of their crazy scheme. I hope someone close to him has the sense to talk him out of the worst of SImpson's plans.
BUT if Obama proposes tax increases, and SS deduction increases for the rich, as we have been hearing, then it is a huge step toward solving deficit and SS problems and that alone would sell it to me.

Posted by: T2 on April 12, 2011 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK
But here's the thing: I rather doubt the Simpson/Bowles plan will be Obama's plan. It seems far more likely to me that the president will present a very different vision, and make it seem as if it's the Simpson/Bowles plan.

That doesn't even begin to make sense, particularly when the White House is already saying that it isn't going to be an endorsement of Simpson/Bowles. That means that there are two plausible possibilities:
1. The President's plan won't be Simpson/Bowles, and won't be sold as being Simpson/Bowles, though it might be sold as reflecting some desirable features of Simpson/Bowles while improving in other areas.
2. The President's plan will, essentially, be Simpson/Bowles, but will be sold as not being Simpson/Bowles, i.e., the exact opposite of what you present as likely.

If the President was going to endorse something other than Simpson/Bowles but try to sell it as being essentially Simpson/Bowles, then the White House wouldn't be already selling the idea that the President would not be essentially endorsing Simpson/Bowles.

Posted by: cmdicely on April 12, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Ya know, it truly is a damn shame. Obama had the chance to bring actual change to the way our government works -- and not just the huggy-feely bipartisan stuff (which those who read The Audacity of Hope saw coming).

I'm talking about the way the GOP has ran DC for the past 40 years, and the fact IT HAS FAILED.. Period. End. Of. Fucking. Discussion.

Obama could have changed a lot not just by a wave of his hand -- dude is just a dude, and has a dysfunctional Congress with which to work). He could have done it by simply standing up for basic human decency.

Think about it: If he were to suggest things like a WPA, higher taxes on the rich and corporations, standing up for human rights instead of continuing old Bush programs, etc., the public's support would far outweigh the cries of a few Teatardaloons.

Sadly, he hasn't, choosing instead to buy into the same false narratives as everyone but a select few.

I don't know if that's because it's what he wanted all along, or if it's the Beltway Virus that infects the minds of all those who go there.


Guess we'll see what he says, but I ain't exactly hopeful.

Posted by: Mark D on April 12, 2011 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

But so-called "progressives"...

What a joke. Here is the reality. The Democratic party is lead -- and lead poorly -- by a group of corporatist Third-Way Democrats that champion policies that are extremely unpopular within the party.

If the party were to divide in two, with liberal Democrats on side and the Third-Way Democrats on the other, it wouldn't be close. 90 percent of the party would be on the liberal side. Unfortunately, on the lonely Third-Way side would be virtually all Democratic Senators, the President, and at least half of Democratic Congresspersons.

How does a minority faction come to dominate a political party when its views are unpopular? By pretending to side with the majority and engaging in kabuki political actions to appear "forced" to compromise and settle on Third-Way positions. Tactically, they co-opt liberal terms and then subvert them. For example, one of the largest Third-Way think tanks is the Progressive Policy Institute. My ass they are "progressive". However, the name keeps actual progressives and liberals from freaking out that their leaders are deliberately selling them down the river.

There are several regular Third-Way commenters at this blog, such as "chi res".

They are notable for laughably accusing anyone who actually advocates for liberal policies of not really being a progressive or liberal.

Now, it would be too obvious if they simply told everyone that liberal policies were no good and that we should all embrace unfettered corporatism. That wouldn't fly.

So, instead, they suggest that our time simply is wasted by attacking Obama rather than "getting up and doing something" to accomplish liberal goals.

But, in their mind, "doing something" never includes anything that might actually further liberal goals. As Steve LaBonne pointed out, the very purpose of trial balloons is to test the political waters. The only people who would suggest that liberals do not loudly and aggressively object when trial balloons for conservative policies are floated are...people who want conservative policies.

Posted by: square1 on April 12, 2011 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is failing us, and better get his act together. I do think we should understand his predicament, but he could *try* harder. Go to http://act.boldprogressives.org/survey/survey_obamamedicare/?akid=3773.130108.hWu1Ag&rd=1&source=e1-ywsc&t=3 and sign the petition. Here's the money quote from the email I got from them (no italics since webbeats here won't fix RPI, name link, or multi-paragraph italics HTML):


Urgent! The White House announced that in a big speech tomorrow, President Obama will do what no Republican President has been able to do: Put Medicare and Medicaid on the table for potential cuts.

Many former Obama volunteers, donors, and voters are deeply disappointed. A Democratic Congressman said on MSNBC last night that Obama needs to "act like a Democrat."

Will you sign this urgent pledge, which we'll deliver to the Obama campaign?

"President Obama: If you cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits for me, my parents, my grandparents, or families like mine, don't ask for a penny of my money or an hour of my time in 2012. I'm going to focus on electing bold progressive candidates -- not Democrats who help Republicans make harmful cuts." Click here to sign.

Will you do it too? Thanks!

Posted by: neil b on April 12, 2011 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

I do believe that cmdicely analyzes the situation correctly.

Posted by: square1 on April 12, 2011 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Which part of the budge propels the country forward? Which part creates jobs? Which part lends a helping hand to those who need it now more than ever?Posted by: doubtful

Really? Google not working for you today?

Okay, I'll get you started. But if I do everything for you, how will you learn to do it for yourself?

propels country forward / creates jobs:
National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund
2010-2011: +$4B

lends a helping hand to those who need it:
Low Income Energy Assistance
2010-2011: +$2B

Now, was that so hard?


They are notable for laughably accusing anyone who actually advocates for liberal policies of not really being a progressive or liberal. Posted by: square 1

It's not your policies I'm laughing at; it's your ridiculous notion of how real-world politics works. Sorry, but there isn't some magical "bully pulpit" that produces ponies. Mommy and daddy aren't here anymore to serve your every need. You have to actually organize and negotiate and often compromise to create a better society.

Posted by: chi res on April 12, 2011 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

It's not your policies I'm laughing at

No. It's pretty much the policies. You just won't admit it.

You prefer government-subsidized insurance to single-payer or Medicare buy-in. You like tax cuts for the wealthy. You don't like unions. And you want budget cuts and deregulation.

You want to prop up TBTF banks rather than wind them down. You don't want to prosecute securities fraud that caused the collapse. And you don't want to re-impose Glass-Steagall.

You don't want to chop the defense budget. And you are in no hurry to get out of Iraq or Afghanistan.

Just admit it, chi res. Just be honest.

Posted by: square1 on April 12, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

When working with Republicans, we need to see more No-bama, less Slowbama, and especially not Woebama. *Not "Nobama" as not him (well, to be different might be OK), but to say "no" more often.

Posted by: neil b on April 12, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, weren't the ultimate conclusions of Simpson Bowles more liberal than reported? And even at that, SB did not actually come up with a report its members could agree on.

Why isn't more being made of the progressive alternative budget? Why isn't more being made of Jan Schakowsky's alternative budget--and she WAS a member of Simpson Bowles?

Posted by: jjm on April 12, 2011 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

>>lends a helping hand to those who need it:
>Low Income Energy Assistance
>2010-2011: +$2B
OK, not so bad for last FY - but is it true, Obama offered to cut the same sort of heating subsidies for low income families? Then not so great this time.
BTW, for balance don't forget http://www.whattheheckhasobamadonesofar.com

Posted by: neil b on April 12, 2011 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Tax hikes on the wealthy are popular. Very popular. Hitting large corporations is popular too.

For the past two years, the Democrats didn't need cover to pass tax hikes on the wealthy and corporations. They needed cover not to pass tax hikes.

Posted by: square1 on April 12, 2011 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

I have the feeling that we're going to get one hell of a long-lasting "October surprise" tomorrow.

Posted by: Jay J on April 12, 2011 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

square1, where has chi res EVER advocated that we stop HCR with mandates? Other than in your mind, that is.
What is it with the inability to face reality that I see from so many who call themselves "progressives" or "liberals"? How is your wish list of legislation going to get through Congress WITHOUT compromises being made? Act like the Republican/Teabaggers, maybe? Because someone doesn't agree with YOUR position doesn't mean they're NOT a progressive or liberal. The only group I know of currently that requires a "loyalty oath" are the Teabaggers. Is that your goal? A left-wing version of the Teabaggers?
For two years I've watched self-proclaimed "progressives" and so-called "liberals" bitch and whine because the rainbows and unicorns haven't arrived yet. But then it's quite apparent that you and yhose like you exist in a bubble-world just as insulated as the one GWB constructed for himself if you really believe that "...90 per cent of the party would be on the liberal side."
Really? Then where are all the f*cking "liberals" in Congress? In the governorships and state legislatures? On the city and county councils? If the Democratic Party is so damned liberal, why don't liberals CONTROL the party?
If you're such a political wizard, able to get ANYTHING you want through Congress, would you mind telling me what you're doing wasting your time and effort by posting here? Why aren't you running for President? Hell, why aren't YOU President?
I know why, besides the fact that with your political skills you probably couldn't manage a Garden Club. It's because rather than do something about anything, you'd rather bitch about someone who IS actually accomplishing something because that "something" doesn't meet YOUR criteria. No wonder the Republican/Teabaggers have managed to make "liberal" a dirty word.
They're getting a lot of help...

Posted by: Doug on April 12, 2011 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

I doubt anyone will read this, and if they do, I doubt they'll be surprised by what I say, but chi res is full of shit. There is no increased for home heating assistance.

The compromised bill includes a cut for home heating assistance of $390 million in addition to the $2.5 billion cut in Obama's original proposed budget.

Wolves will be removed from the endangered species list.

WIC was slashed by over $500 million.

High speed rail investments were eliminated.

$30 million cut from job training (I mean, who needs that now, afterall?)

The only way chi res can make this a progressive budget is by lying. Chi res is no better than the people on the other side of the aisle; an enabler and a cheerleader and a troll.

Posted by: doubtful on April 13, 2011 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK
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