Deficit Commission Haunts President

You know it’s not looking good for the President when journalists at NBC and The Atlantic start echoing mild-mannered conservative bloggers like yours truly. I’ve been fairly skeptical of the President’s recent enthusiasm for a debt reduction based on the finding of his deficit commission, and it’s apparently a point likewise not lost on all journalists, as Clive Crook illustrates:

NBC’s Chuck Todd asked a good question: any regrets over failing to back Bowles-Simpson [co-chairs of the deficit commission -ed.] from the start? That was a grand bargain, after all, based on a balanced agenda of tax increases and spending cuts–much like the proposal Obama now apparently prefers. I say “apparently” because he still has not spelled out in public a plan of his own. Asked at the press conference to make one specific proposal on entitlement reform, he dodged yet again, merely laying out criteria for what he might be willing to accept if somebody else happened to come up with a plan.

His answer on Bowles-Simpson was telling. Among other things, he said that the public is already there, so a Bowles-Simpson-like plan never needed any great effort of selling on his part. All it requires is a spirit of compromise on Capitol Hill–and a new willingness in both parties in Congress to listen to public opinion.

Rubbish. Whatever else you might say about Congress, don’t accuse it of ignoring public opinion. Both parties are attentive–far too attentive–to the contradictory strands in the public’s unformed thinking on these issues. Democrats: defend Medicare and Social Security. Republicans: roll back wasteful government and no job-killing tax increases. The public agrees with both sides. I’ve been arguing for months that the Bowles-Simpson approach–do a little of everything–is certainly capable of being sold, but a forceful champion is absolutely required. The non-partisan middle of the electorate is not yet there; and the politically energized segments of public opinion are strongly opposed. The middle needs to be brought round, and the extremes confronted and beaten back. I think it is pretty feeble of Obama to say, all we need is for Congress to listen to the country.

Exactly. The President’s answer on not championing his own commission is complete rubbish, especially in light of his own record of ignoring the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission as I reported in December:

President Obama did not attend a White House meeting Thursday with members of his own debt commission, irking some of the Democrats on the panel who were expecting a high-level push from the commander-in-chief to show that its comprehensive deficit reduction plan is being taken seriously by the White House.

After the White House meeting, Bowles and Simpson put out a joint statement urging the President to start negotiations with leaders in Congress early in January and put together a “comprehensive plan to restrain spending across the federal budget, enact broad-based tax reform that lowers rates and reduces the deficit, take steps to bring down health care costs, and make Social Security solvent for the next 75 years and beyond.”

Bowles and Simpson said the plan should be unveiled during the President’s State of the Union address, which is expected to happen in late January, and then both parties should cut a deal on deficit reduction before approving another increase in the federal debt limit.

Instead of unveiling the plan at the State of the Union, instead of months of negotiations with Congress, instead of months of townhall meetings to champion the proposal to the public, the President punted and would now have us believe the problem was Congress wasn’t listening. But as I reported in April, there were members of Congress listening to the commissions recommendations:

The Republicans were willing to listen to them: Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan, released last week, follows the commission in proposing major tax reform — closing loopholes, lowering rates and using some of the savings to balance the federal books.

The President would have us believe that the current debt ceiling crisis is a failing on the part of Congress, when in reality it’s a failing of his leadership ability. Waiting eight months to champion his own commission’s ideas isn’t leadership, it’s political opportunism. Change – that could lose the AAA rating.

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