Will Obama Move To The Right On The Budget?

Is President Obama going to declare his recently submitted budget null and void tomorrow and throw in with Simpson-Bowles or just deliver a political speech that hits the worn out themes of taxing the rich, preserving the social safety net and the need for more bipartisan Kumbaya moments?

The Progressive bloggers (here and here for instance) say he will use the Deficit Commission work for the basis of a new plan, and a Conservative blogger agrees that’s where the Washington buzz has him going. Clive Crook thinks differently:

Specific proposals? Here’s how the New York Times was briefed for Monday’s paper.

In his remarks…Mr. Obama will not offer details but will set deficit-cutting goals, White House officials said. The numbers were still under discussion on Sunday.

Deficit-cutting goals. That’s bold. Numbers still under discussion. Were there no such discussions before the budget was submitted?

You can see Obama’s problem. Either he declares his own budget completely inadequate, as of course it was, which makes him look incompetent. (Obviously, If he had wanted to follow the Bowles-Simpson approach, as he should, he could have said so months ago, and the budget could have sought to implement it.) Or he stands by his do-nothing budget, adds some new rhetorical flourishes, and calls for more co-operation, in which case the failure-to-lead charge sticks. He ought to take a chance and do the first, but I expect he will feel his dignity cannot stand it, so he will try to split the difference. In any event, I’m looking forward to the speech.

Ezra Klein among others suggests that Obama has made a hash of the negotiations over taxes and deficits and so has created an environment in which Simpson-Bowles becomes the position from which the Democrats would have to move rightward to compromise with the Ryan plan. Probably true, but there might be well be a larger consideration driving the Obama strategy.

At the end of the day, the concern for the President and his advisors is going to be what policy mix is going to get him reelected. More to the point, what mix will appeal to the Independents he had in 2008 and lost in 2010. I suspect it is manifestly clear to them that it isn’t a Progressive program which would be represented by current fiscal expenditures and the implicit tax regime needed to responsibly support it. They may calculate that Simpson-Bowles represents a saleable policy and a position from which they can paint the Ryan plan as draconian.

The Republican’s properly sensed that voters were as engaged and concerned as they have rarely been with the direction of the economy and the political responses emanating from Washington. They turned it to their advantage. Pundits and even some Progressive politicians might be deluded by Beltway hubris to believe that better negotiating strategies would have or might yet turn events towards budget outcomes more to the liking of the Left. I suspect that the President, however, knows that four more years in office are not going to be gained via more skillful bartering, rather that he will have to deliver economic policies which satisfy an electorate not at all content with current direction.

So Clive Crook might well be right that dignity wills out and Obama talks in generalities, but it probably will be just the beginning of a move towards Simpson-Bowles and even beyond. The man is no fool and knows full well the truth of his assertion that “elections have consequences.”

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