Home / General / The Bad Politics of Obama’s Grand Bargain Fetish

The Bad Politics of Obama’s Grand Bargain Fetish


Obama’s caving on chained CPI and allowing reductions to Medicare so he can achieve his long-desired grand bargain is a terrible idea, not only on the merits but on the politics. It isn’t going to convince Republican fireeaters to bargain in good faith because their ultimate goal is to destroy his presidency, not run the country. It also opens Obama up to attacks from Republicans that he is hurting seniors. Greg Walden, chair of the House GOP reelection committee, is already doing just that, attacks that may well hurt Democratic candidates in 2014. Those attacks might be disingenuous from people want to do away with Social Security entirely (or privatize it, which is pretty much the same thing), but truth is not the name of the game here.

Bad policy, bad politics.

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  • stavner

    I think the beginning of this post is the real reason why Obama is doing this. He knows there won’t be a deal, and he knows that the Serious folks in Washington won’t praise him anyway. All he can hope for is to make the Republicans look bad and hope there’s not too much fallout for Democrats:


    • But I’ve never seen any evidence to suggest such a strategy depended on offering up cuts to social security benefits, even in the form of lower COLA’s.

      • jim, some guy in iowa

        it does because it is *the* democratic achievement of the new deal years, and if a dem president puts it on the chopping block there can be no stronger signal of his willingness to negotiate with the terrori- no, wait, the *republicans*. and of course they are too nuts to actually take this deal, so it won’t happen. they’ll just get blamed for being slightly bigger jackasses than obama is, so it’s all good.

        and since it doesn’t happen it was never proposed. it can never be used against obama, because he’ll never run for president again. the republicans will have their hands tied, and can never use it against the other dems in the ’14 midterms or later. it has no effect on the public’s sense that social security needs to be cut, that it contributes to the budget problems, that it isn’t sustainable.

        it’s like *magic*, or something

        • Republicans have already lost the PR battle about whether they’re intransigent. But I don’t know that they lose more by looking more intransigent, and that chained CPI is necessary for that (if it’s even possible).

          • jim, some guy in iowa

            yeah. i was trying to pre-emptively summmarize 8,395 comments from random

            • joe from Lowell

              None of which you’ve ever been able to formulate a response to.

              So maybe saying them in a funny voice will cause people to overlook that.

              • jim, some guy in iowa

                point out where i misrepresented or was wrong about what has been said, and i’ll listen, and we can talk.

                tell me you don’t like the tone i took, and you can fuck off

          • Random

            But I don’t know that they lose more by looking more intransigent

            Translation: “Let the GOP out of the box, take your foot off the snake’s neck. What could possibly go wrong?”

            • If that was anything like an accurate characterization or implication of what I wrote it might be worthy of a response.

          • joe from Lowell

            Republicans have already lost the PR battle about whether they’re intransigent.

            Politics is not like building a bridge, where you put in the last brick and you’re done.

            Politics is like mowing the lawn or taking out the trash. You have to keep going back and doing it again.

            • Yeah, you know, I’m kind of aware of that.

              I’m also still not seeing any explanation for why Chained CPI was a necessary component to his budget.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Right. Any “deficit reduction” program that included tax increases would demonstrate Republican intransigence. Nobody has offered anything resembling a remotely decent reason for why Social Security cuts, specifically, are necessary for this to work.

    • Anonymous

      Bingo. He might as well add “and a pony.” Ain’t gonna happen, so the details don’t matter.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      But this doesn’t make the Republicans look any worse than they already look. And it gives them the opportunity to accuse him of trying to cut Social Security.

      The simplest explanation for this budget is the President’s own explanation: he’d rather not cut Social Security, but if there’s any chance that being willing to do so would allow him to achieve his “balanced” Grand Bargain, he’s willing to do so.

      There’s never been any real evidence that he’s not entirely serious about such a deal (though there’s of course plenty of evidence he’s not going to get one).

      But it’s terrible politics even if it were designed as a bad-faith effort to make the GOP look bad. Social Security doesn’t contribute to the budget. There’s no constituency that the President has any chance of winning that favors cutting it. His offer to cut it doesn’t make him look “serious” — or make the GOP look any worse — in any way that helps him or the Democrats politically. And Walden’s ploy today underscores that fact.

      Just as the simplest explanation of Obama’s budget it that the President is, in principle, willing to cut Social Security to achieve a Grand Bargain, the simplest explanation for the endless desire on the part of some to explain the President’s budget as 11th-dimensional chess is an unwillingness to accept the President’s policy preferences for what they are.

  • JKTHs

    It looks like Walden was actually attacking the Medicare cuts, probably because a significant component of that is reducing/eliminating rents for drug companies in Part D.

    • Bigger issue is that it polls well with seniors. It was the core of their campaign message in 2010.

    • ploeg

      I read it as Walden attacking both the Medicare cuts and chained CPI, but I’ll just put out the quote with my emphasis:

      I’ll tell you when you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taken $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare and now coming back at seniors again, I think you’re crossing that line very quickly here in terms of denying access to seniors for health care in districts like mine certainly and around the country.

      • thehermit

        I don’t think you understand that the ‘$700B cut’ in Medicare was not a benefit cut. Most of it was reduction or elimination of programmed overpayments to Medicare Advantage, the GOP’s attempt to privatize Medicare. The rest was reduction of reimbursements to providers. Bringing MA costs in line with traditional Medicare, and negotiating drug prices under part D with Big Pharma would save a lot of money. Single payer/Medicare for All or some form of National Health Insurance, including some sort of National Health Service would do a lot to provide access in rural and underserved communities.

        • thehermit

          Sorry, I didn’t realize that was a quote. (Sheepishly.)

  • Philip

    If this passes somehow, what’s the over/under on how many hours before the Republicans break their end of the deal?

    • 15 minutes.

      • FMguru

        Hey everybody, get a load of Mister Optimism here.

      • cpinva

        wow, what shrooms have you been chewing on? i say 10 minutes, max.

      • Depends on how fast a Republican can say,

        “They rammed this through and now we’ll fix it by cutting taxes.”

        I measure that in seconds, not minutes.

      • NonyNony

        Yeah, maybe negative 15 minutes.

  • LuigiDaMan

    Somebody help me… Is the last great Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson? Is that possible? Was this the last one to deliver on liberal/progressive ideals?

    • You mean one of only two and the most recent Democratic president who had 68 Dem senators and 297 Dem reps?

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        No number of Republicans in Congress can force a President to draw up a budget like the one Obama submitted, especially since actual possibility of passage was clearly not the guiding principle.

        Obama’s Grand Bargain obsession is entirely Obama’s responsibility, though it reflects a mainstream Democratic obsession with the zombie economics of fiscal conservatism that goes back a couple decades.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          “Social Security doesn’t contribute to the budget deficit.”

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            Whoops…that was a correction to a mistake in my comment upthread. Not my day for proofreading, obviously!

        • So your solution is…

          • Incontinentia Buttocks

            1) Don’t pursue a Grand Bargain, because: a) it’s bad policy; b) it’s bad politics; c) it’s not going to happen anyway.

            2) Propose a budget that represents actually good and/or actually popular policy (might as well, since no budget proposed by this President is getting through the House). If the White House wouldn’t want to go through the trouble of coming up with one itself, it could always back the Senate Majority’s budget proposals.

            3) Solve the rotating debt-ceiling pseudo-crisis via the 14th Amendment, a platinum coin, or moral-obligation coupons.

            3) Scrape by with continuing resolutions.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              I should add that the first step to real budget sanity is to stop worrying about deficits. Our real economic problems involve unemployment and sluggish growth, not the public debt.

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              Whoops…that second “3” should be “4”…but you get the picture.

            • Ah, OK, pretend Congress doesn’t exist.

              • Bill Murray

                what does Congress have to do with the budget drawn up by the President? Sure they aren’t going to pass it, but that’s true regardless of contents

                • Incontinentia Buttocks

                  Exactly. The Congress sure isn’t going to pass the budget the President produced, so if the principle is “don’t propose something Congress won’t pass,” that’s not much of an argument for the proposed budget.

                  As I said above, he could have just endorsed the Senate Dems’ budget, which also isn’t going to get through Congress but is: a) better than the President’s budget and b) has more to do with Congress’s existence than the fantasy Presidential Grand Bargain.

                • Right, Presidents draw up budgets just for whatever, it’s not like they ever have to agree to one with Congress.

                • joe from Lowell

                  if the principle is “don’t propose something Congress won’t pass,” that’s not much of an argument for the proposed budget.

                  The strategy relies upon the “something Congress won’t pass” being all centrist and reasonable, as those terms are defined by elite opinion.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                And let’s be clear: my differences with the President in this case aren’t merely strategic. The President believes that “getting our fiscal house in order” is a priority. I don’t think our fiscal “house” is actually “out of order,” and believe that if we got a Grand Bargain aimed at “putting it into order,” we’d harm what really ought to be the focus of our fiscal policies: reducing unemployment and getting the economy moving again.

                • First rule of blog commenting is that when a Republican says something you don’t like that they could actually believe that thing that’s wrong, but they could also be saying it for the benefit of the press and the public. But whenever a Democrat says something you dislike, assume they’re telling the truth because to think they were using guile goes against the battering-ram approach to politics that may be ineffective but is much more emotionally satisfying.

                • For instance, Obama really was opposed to same sex marriage until 2012. Right?

            • BTW, I note a word missing from your answer is any version of “sequester.”

              So, you’re conceding massive budget cuts. Or, just avoiding confronting them.

    • Murc

      Is that possible?

      There have only been three Democrats in the White House since LBJ. It is therefore not hard for LBJ to have been the one who got the most done, as there is a 25% chance of that being the case.

  • patrick II

    No one should be surprised by Obama’s proposal. He has been aiming for this misguided grand bargain for a long time. He was a willing co-participant in the first deficit cap debacle and he could still ask for congress to pass a bill to end the sequester, but he hasn’t and he won’t. He would rather do this.

    • He was a willing co-participant in the first deficit cap debacle

      What does that mean? Of COURSE he’s going to be a “co-participant” in anything about the debt ceiling (which is what I assume you mean). he doesn’t get to pick his bargaining partners, he has to deal with the lunatics that Boehner can’t control and the obstructionists that the Senate Dems won’t declaw by changing the filibuster rules.

      • patrick II

        Debt ceiling is correct.
        It was pretty much the same bargaining partners. But what I mean he did not do the first time what he did the second time, which was to assert that blackmailing the country was not something he was willing to go along with, that he would stand firm and make them pay the political price. He didn’t do that, instead he proposed the sequester to postpone but not end the cover of cover of an artificial crises for the republicans as much as much as himself. He imagined then, being reasonable people behind their ideologically extreme words they would meet him half way. He was wrong.

        • cpinva

          “He imagined then, being reasonable people behind their ideologically extreme words they would meet him half way. He was wrong.”

          he’s been wrong for four years. this tells me he’s either a. not very bright., or b. he’s doing it intentionally.

          clearly, he’s a bright guy, so i don’t think that’s the problem. which leaves us with b. that being the case, one must ask why? to that, i have no answer.

          • jb

            I think its because he genuinely believes that he can get the Republicans to co-operate with him. He really does seem to believe in compromise between the two parties.

            Remember his speech about how “there is no red or blue America, there”s a United States of America”? I think he actually believes that. I could be wrong though.

            In many ways, this misguided belief that he can get the Republicans to co-operate with him is the great tradgedy of Obama’s presidency.

            • patrick II

              From Isaiah Berlin’s essay on Machiavelli.

              What has been shown by Machiavelli, …but that when they assume that the two ideals are compatible, or perhaps are even one and the same, and do not allow this assumption to be questioned they are guilty of bad faith…Machiavelli calls the bluff not just of official morality…but of one of the foundations of the central Western philosophical tradition, the belief in the ultimate compatibility of all genuine values

              Obama has not come to terms with the ultimate incompatibility of democracy and conservative republicanism.

              • So what’s his solution, dissolve Congress?

                He’s coming to terms with the ultimate incompatibility of not coming in to some agreement with the opposition and the continued operation of the US government.

                • BTW, he’s come to terms with this, the GOP has not. That makes this difficult to game out, since we really haven’t been in this kind of impasse since the Civil War. I happen to think the CPI stuff isn’t helpful, but it’s clear he need to do something to position the WH and Dems vis a vis the GOP for when they finally have to come to some agreement.

            • What happens if he DOESN’T get the GOP to agree to something?

              This isn’t like the gun stuff or immigration. At some point there will have to be cooperation between Obama, the Congressional Dems and the Republicans. I think putting chained CPI on the table is a bad move, and I don’t see what this gambit accomplishes that requires its inclusion. But the reason he believes the GOP will cooperate is that on the budget they’ll actually have to eventually cooperate in some way.

          • Ben Franklin

            he’s been wrong for four years. this tells me he’s either a. not very bright., or b. he’s doing it intentionally.

            It’s what the fiscal conservative has always wanted. The shell company is RNC, just like the Trojan Horse.

          • joe from Lowell

            he’s been wrong for four years. this tells me he’s either a. not very bright., or b. he’s doing it intentionally.

            Or c) he’s playing a game you can’t follow.

        • First time the GOP hadn’t been hammered in the polls and Wall St types hadn’t gotten pissed at them. They were chastened the second time, but they weren’t the first.

          • I never see any clever solutions for the fact that Obama has to deal with the Republicans. I think the chained CPI stuff is a bad idea, but most people complaining about it won’t face the harsh reality that there isn’t a good option here.

            • Jay B.

              Yes there is. DON’T BUT IT IN YOUR FUCKING BUDGET PROPOSAL. That would have been a good idea.

              • “Other commenters’s refusals to offer a solution only go to ten, but my refusal to offer a solution GOES TO ELEVEN!”

    • Richard

      And what do you mean he could ask Congress to end the sequester? The Republicans have said they will not end the sequester unless there is a plan to cut the deficit by the same amount as the sequester does. So not only will the “request” be refused, a bill to end the sequester wont even get to the House floor. Please let me know how he is going to end the sequester without Republican votes.

      • patrick II

        Well in addition to misnaming the debt ceiling it appears I can’t hit the right reply button. See above.

      • patrick II

        What I mean is that Obama proposed the sequester to postpone the artificial crisis of the debt ceiling.
        He could ask congress to rescind the sequester and leave the budget where is was. Whether or not he could get it through congress he has not asked, but has taken the sequester as some sort of necessary condition rather than an artificial solution to an artifical crisis which he could have stopped the first time.
        I think he wanted to create the conditions for a compromise with the republicans, but underestimated their determination not to compromise.

        • Dude, it’s not an “artificial crisis” if the GOP makes it in to a real crisis. There’s plenty of evidence that their brinksmanship in 2011 slowed the recovery. It’s a stupid law and the reasons they offer for why it shouldn’t have been raised were idiotic, but the effect of not raising it would be real, and the effects of coming close to not raising it were also real.

          • patrick II

            Republicans raised the debt ceiling the second time because he called their political bluff. He could have done that the first time, but I assert he was angling towards a grand bargain even then and giving both him and the republicans a reason to compromise. Obama plays very sophisticated, although sometimes misguided, politics with his supporters as was as his rivals.
            In other words, to a degree, we have been played, Dude.

            • So your contention is the GOP was just as willing to call his bluff, and the dynamics of Congress were no different–you know, like the partisan margins–so what he accomplished the second time would have been equally easy the first time.


            • joe from Lowell

              in 2011, the Republicans had just won Congress in a wave election, and were in control of the national political agenda, when they picked a debt ceiling fight.

              In 2012, they had been beaten down and were hugely unpopular as a result of that earlier debt-ceiling fight and other political machinations that revealed “the momentum of their ideology.”

              • I’m not sure I understand your contention.

                Obama was structurally factored to win (and largely ran a great campaign). The Dems benefited from the Obama electorate. The republicans hung on to the house by incumbency and gerrymandering (a bit).

                I’m not sure the debt ceiling fight had a huge electoral effect.

                • I don’t think it had a huge direct electoral effect with voters, but I do think it hurt the Republicans’ campaign finances. They were doing pretty well, cashing in on hurt feelings of the widdy biddy boys on Wall St with their thin skin who were mad that Obama was mean to them (by not kissing their butts 24/7). But from what I heard from some friends in that world, a bunch of the same clowns freaking out about Obama lost their minds around the time of the debt ceiling showdown, because they couldn’t believe the GOP was so insane that they’d risk us defaulting. I don’t think it led many if any back to supporting Obama, but it probably hurt their fundraising, since compared to the GOP the Dems actually did much better than they should have in (hard money) contributions to the Dem campaign committees. And even in soft money, the SuperPAC contributions from Wall St were fairly heavily weighted with people who had ties to Romney. Had it not been him as the nominee, the SuperPAC money would have been more concentrated among the Kochs and a handful of other zealous ideologues along with the Mormons who put up money because it was Romney.

                • I don’t think it had a huge direct electoral effect with voters, but I do think it hurt the Republicans’ campaign finances.

                  I can believe that (the rest of your comment all sounds reasonable) but is either party really hurting for money at the presidential level? Or even the congressional level?

  • Josh Marshall seems to be in a tizzy.

    I look forward to Random’s discourse on probability and how the Republicans definitely own CCPI.

    That being said, it is a bit premature to think that this will stick. It might. It might not. An off year budget generally afaik doesn’t have a ton of effect.

    But it still seems like a bad move.

    • somethingblue

      That’s actually Brian Beutler.

      • spencer

        It’s kind of like how all posters here are Scott Lemieux.

        • Or a hatless Rob Farley.

          • bobbyp

            There is no such creature.

            • LosGatosCA

              You must have missed thisclassic

        • DocAmazing

          Isn’t “Lemieux” French for “Loomis”?

      • Oops!

    • cpinva

      “But it still seems like a bad move.”

      it is a bad move, on multiple levels. the first one being, it isn’t necessary. simply tweaking the FICA rate or, more sensibly, removing the FICA income ceiling, quickly and simply resolves any potential problems with future SS liabilities, pretty much forever. the only people it’s going to piss off, are those people who aren’t ever going to be dependent on it, in any significant way, and aren’t ever going to vote democratic.

      • JKTHs

        This. I don’t see what’s not a slam dunk political winner about “we made Social Security financially sound for at least decades by raising taxes mostly on rich people.”

    • Random

      You can make fun of me all you want, it won’t change the fact that the numbers are what they are.

      • DocAmazing

        You can make fun of me all you want

        What’s the alternative? Taking you seriously?

        • Random

          As opposed to the oh-so-serious argument that Obama put this in the budget to impress David Brooks and because he secretly wants to drink the blood of the starving elderly?

          Josh Marshall is in such a tizzy that he’s apparently popping popcorn.

          • Ed

            As opposed to the oh-so-serious argument that Obama put this in the budget to impress David Brooks and because he secretly wants to drink the blood of the starving elderly?

            Already he’s getting kudos among the Serious People for his willingness to Defy Party Orthodoxy. Charlie Rose just had a fellow on burbling about Obama’s bravery in blowing off the AARP.

            Yes, we can hope the GOP will continue to save Obama from himself.

            • Random

              Yes, we can hope the GOP will continue to save Obama from himself.

              Obama’s the one who made the budget that the GOP is having trouble supporting in the first damn place.
              So it’s actually Obama saving Obama from himself.

              Why is this so freaking hard for people to understand?

        • joe from Lowell

          The actual alternative would be to rebut his argument.

          Nobody seems able to do that, though. Some would view that as a reason to reconsider their opposition. Well, in an ideal world, some would do that.

          In this world, people respond by pre-emptively trying to discredit the person who makes the argument they can’t rebut.

          • To be fair, Random has avoided responding to my rebuttal.

            Of course, we’re basically on the same side, but there is some reasonable points of disagreement.

            • Random

              I didn’t see your post, my apologies for not responding to it, it wasn’t intentional. ( I also appreciate very much that you are trying to make a rational argument that’s significantly less-dense than “The dude who hasn’t lost an election in ~16 years is the biggest political idiot ever”)

              Reading it, it sounds like you agree with me that it’s extremely stupid to bet even one time on the GOP raising taxes and extremely smart to bet every single time on them not raising taxes.

              But let’s ignore 21 (I think it’s actually 23) years of history and let’s ignore that “TEA” stands for “Taxed Enough Already” and let’s even ignore any political cost to a Republican who dares to vote for the Marxist-Leninist Budget of Treasonous Muslim Treason (Benghazi!), and see what we are left dealing with:

              Obama has repeatedly demonstrated that this exact present-day GOP Congress’s asking price in exchange for voting for a tax increase is higher than the pittance he’s offering them in this budget.

              Much, much higher.

              For example, it’s an empirical fact that this exact GOP Congress would rather ruthlessly sodomize defense lobbyists and lose jobs and factories in their home districts than raise taxes.

              • Sorry, I just caught up to this. (Migrating to a new laptop precluded clean replying.)

                Reading it, it sounds like you agree with me that it’s extremely stupid to bet even one time on the GOP raising taxes and extremely smart to bet every single time on them not raising taxes.


                My point was twofold:

                1) Looking at the 21 year timeline you can get, perhaps, a 0.5% rate of voting for tax increases by Republicans, but that the right measure is something more like expected utility. If the gain is pretty low and the downside rather high, even that low non-zero change of the negative is not good.

                2) Looking at the 21 year timeline presumes that the phenomenon under observation is uniform over the 21 years. We know for sure that the people in question have changed and we know that the political landscape has changed. So, the stuff from the early years doesn’t tell us very much about the now.

                If we look on the shorter timeline, to wit, the current congress, we have 1 vote that was allowed to happen by the leadership and gained 84 Republcian votes that included tax increases. I don’t know the number of possible tax bills considered since the start of this congress, but it’s well under 100. I’d guess more like 20. That’s a 5% chance in recent history.

                I think it’s reasonable to speculate that more of those bills could have gotten a majority of the House although only a minority of the Republicans.

                Given that the leadership is more open to allowing votes that could pass the House as a whole, it seems we are in a situation where simple projection isn’t prima facie a wise prediction technique.

                (Note, as well, your general line that it hasn’t happened for 21 years = not going to happen this time is also not really super sensible if we’re looking as a strain model. We can’t be so clear whether the 1 vote we saw is an anomaly or a crack in the dam. This is related to my question to jfl below: Granting that the President has run this ploy successfully before, how much risk of overconfidence and thus the ploy failing hard is there? I don’t think this is negligible. The Republicans are politicians and they’ve scored victories. And, again, the downside is, while not immediately catastrophic, not good as it’s going to be pretty hard, I think, to move back from CCPI if it gets in.

                Yes, Obama can break off, pull back, etc. I’m not saying it’s forgone, I’m just saying that there are some avoidable risks here.)

                • Here’s an example of a liberal conventional wisdom:

                  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.

                  To liberals, that looks like a pyrrhic victory at best. The Obama administration has put Medicare and Social Security cuts on the table in order to gain a bit of applause from the nation’s editorial pages. The White House sees it differently.

                  The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the sequester has been a bust. Republicans, in particular, have convinced themselves it was all a ruse. But the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which is implementing sequestration, sees it differently. The small number of cuts that have already happened, including White House tours, have provoked an outsized level of political outrage. But the cuts mostly haven’t begun.

                  They begin rolling out in earnest this month. Unemployment checks for people who’ve been without a job for more than 26 weeks are about to get cut by 11 percent. Military contracts are about to get canceled. Medicare patients are being turned away from cancer clinics. Schools will lay off teachers. Infrastructure projects will stop. There will be much more demand for a compromise than there is now. There will be much more political anger than there is now.

                  This budget sets up that debate. 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.

                  If this scenario is true, then CCPI is a possible outcome. If I thought Obama would turn around and campaign against it or try to hang in on the Republicans, great, but somehow I don’t see it.

      • Yeah, not so much.

        Again, I largely agree with you but I do find your insistence that there is no chance of this play going wrong silly.

    • wengler

      Let’s not pretend here. A budget won’t be passed this year or next year. Just as one hasn’t been passed for the last 4 years.

      What this budget does is lock in negotiating positions and makes sure that the President and Congressional Democrats will not be on the same side. It’s triangulating bullshit, that does nothing but poison every single debate for the next two years.

      Welcome to the Clinton administration. Austerity edition.

  • I think 2012 was the last time I’ll let myself hope that Barack Obama can learn lessons and change. He’s a total known quantity, good and bad, which is a bit of a problem since the GOP has perfected exactly how to deal with his tactics on budgetary issues. I mean, it’s not like I was expecting him to abandon deficits completely. But I was hoping that he’d approach the subject differently, with a little more nuance and hard-headedness. After all, however well-intentioned and thoughtful his approach to the subject was during 2010/11, it also nearly destroyed his presidency due to poor decisions made in dealing with the debt ceiling. You figure, someone goes through that, they won’t want to do it again. Heh.

    Seems obvious to me that O sees this as a legacy thing. It has been pointed out that this is crazy and that budget deals are altered and ultimately forgotten over time, but I think that’s what he thinks.

  • jb

    I think this piece by Charles Pierce sums it up pretty well.

    Key quotes:

    If this is your rationale for making policy, what in the name of god is the point of running for office in the first place? Nobody’s president forever. You get elected. You enact the policies on which you ran, and of which the voters evidently approve. If, one day down the line, the voters decide to approve someone else, and someone else’s policy, that’s just the way it has to go. Caveat emptor, and all that. You certainly don’t decide to enact policies based on their being the most palatable variation of something an imaginary future president might do. That’s just nuts.

    We will be told — and already have been — that this is simply the president’s positioning the Republicans into a corner. But that’s not consonant with the quote above. That quote isn’t about what’s happening now. It’s about telling people that they have to accept some pain now because, otherwise, they’ll face agony later at some unspecified time and the hands of some unspecified president. There is only one reason for anyone in the White House to adopt this rationale, and there is only one reason for anyone in the White House to float this rationale in public. The only plausible reason for adopting this rationale, or for floating it in public, is because this is what you really want to do in the first place and you are groping for a plausible alibi.

  • Random
    • Random

      Can we all please dear God agree that the argument that the GOP can get any traction on a concession they wrested from Obama after months of enthusiastically demanding it by name and showing 100% zealous support for the idea and voting for it again and again and that ties directly into the pre-existing narrative of the GOP as opposed to the middle class really just isn’t that strong an argument?

      Please? It’s like trying to blame the Democrats for invading Iraq because Hillary voted for it, or accusing them of being the REAL racists because of Robert Byrd.

      • bobbyp

        Concession? There is plenty of bait. Why pluck out this particular piece of chum?

        And Hillary did vote for Iraq. If you do not see this as a sign of a deep political flaw, cowardice, stupidity, or an ingrained sense of bad judgement, then heaven help you.

        • Random

          Yes Hillary voted for Iraq. And most people primarily blame the GOP for Iraq anyway.

          Also, Byrd was really in the KKK. And most people associate the GOP with racism anyway.

        • joe from Lowell

          There is plenty of bait. Why pluck out this particular piece of chum?

          This is a good question.

          The answer is, because his audience here is the Village, elite opinion. He wants the press to go after the intransigent, irresponsible, fanatical, tax-cuts-uber-alles Republicans during the budget fight of 2013, just like they did during the fiscal cliff talks.

      • bobbyp

        What? A politician or group of them reversing course on a policy based on near term political calculation? Why, that’s as old as indoor plumbing, right?

    • DrDick

      Bad politics, as most of us predicted this would happen.

      • Random

        You’re behind the times, the link I posted is the GOP Establishment response to the link you just posted.

        “Greg Walden doesn’t seriously oppose even the most modest of reforms to social security, right?” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola in a statement. “With nearly $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, the last thing Republicans should attack the Democrats for is for making the most minor reforms to our entitlement programs. If anything, President Obama nibbles around the edges of entitlement reform and doesn’t do anything to put entitlements on a permanently sustainable path.

        “Greg Walden ought to think about clarifying his remarks on chained CPI, and think about clarifying soon. I’m sure his constituents would like to know his opinion,” he added.

        You guys most certainly did not predict that this budget would be at least as divisive for the GOP (who are already at each other’s throats on social issues) as for the Democrats.

        If the GOP tries to use this in 2014, that’s going to just explode in their faces.

        • bobbyp

          Prediction: They will oppose it because it is not “real meaningful reform”, the “deep principled reform” that will magically truncate those humongous and scary “unfunded liabilities”.

          Indoor plumbing for all.

          • Random

            And the ‘indoor plumbing’ crack was in reference to the notion that wielding of a poison pill was some novel form of “11-dimensional chess” invented by Obama in the last few years.

            But clearly your argument that the guy who’s won every election he’s been in for the past decade and has been dealing with the GOP for 5 years now just has NO CLUE how they operate and NO IDEA how politics work is a real winner.

            Clearly, Obama is motivated by nothing rational, except his desire for approval from David Gregory and his buddy Pete Peterson.

            That’s a MUCH more mature argument than me citing the prior legislative record of the Republican Party when trying to, you know, predict their future legislative behavior.

            • Jay B.

              You could go by the motive his camp is making:

              “We’re not going to have the White House forever, folks. If he doesn’t do this, Paul Ryan is going to do it for us in a few years,” said a longtime Obama aide, referring to the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate who proposed a sweeping overhaul of Medicare that would replace some benefits with vouchers.

              That’s a good place to start. Certainly, every Democratic politician is, right now, today, slamming the Administration for this stupidity.

              Here’s Markey and Lynch, running for an actual election , on this debacle:

              US Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, called “chained CPI” an abbreviation for “Cutting People’s Income, a wrong-headed change that would go back on the promise we make to our senior citizens.”

              “Tea Party Republicans may have pushed the president into many of these difficult decisions, but it still does not make this budget right nor fair, especially for those Americans who need help the most,” Markey said.

              Representative Stephen Lynch, who is running against Markey for US Senate, said if elected, he promises to filibuster in the Senate to prevent cuts to Social Security or a move to chained CPI.

              The GOP, of course, is now attacking Obama, predictably and predicted, for putting the cuts on the backs of our seniors.

              Heckofajob, O.

              • DocAmazing

                You’re not putting enough Captain Kirk on it: “That’s what they think we want them to think!”

              • Random

                Correction: One GOP Congressman is attacking Obama for including CPI and the rest of the GOP is attacking that Congressman.

                • mds

                  Just to be clear:

                  “One GOP Congressman” = “current chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, in charge of overseeing their 2014 House electoral efforts”

                  “The rest of the GOP” = “current president of the Club for Growth”

                  “Grover Norquist” = “chopped liver

                • Random


                  I wish him good fortune in explaining to the conservative base of the GOP that cuts to a government-run social insurance program are evil and bad.

                • Random

                  Remember that NRCC stands for “National RINO Congressional Committee”? Turns out conservatives aren’t exactly motivated by Establishment Republicans championing socialist handouts for moochers and embracing pinko DFH rhetoric. Who knew?

                  Thus far the other Republicans that have commented publicly disagrees with him:


                  They either endorse the CPI deal, bitch that it doesn’t cut enough, or complain that it’s all Kenyan smoke and mirrors and there are no actual cuts in the budget at all.

                  Right now Obama can bail on the CPI proposal any time he wants and nobody in his party will be mad at him–it’s not a policy he or anybody else on our side supports.

                  The GOP doesn’t have that mobility. They clamored for exactly this concession for half a year and their base sincerely wants it, only turned up to 11 and with no revenue hikes attached.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Right now Obama can bail on the CPI proposal any time he wants and nobody in his party will be mad at him

                  Just like in 2011. Remember when the premature gloaters were assuring us that the Republicans would attack Obama over this same subject during the debt ceiling deal?

                  “That guy said he was willing to do something we want, but he never actually agreed to make it happen, so vote for us!” is a winning message.

                • eclipse

                  You mean “Get your government hands off my Medicare” Tea Party crowd actually wants to cut Social Security? When the rank-and-file Republicans demand cuts, they’re talking about cuts for other people, not themselves. I thought that point was pretty obvious.

                  And being hypocritical and massively dishonest about entitlements has never really impeded Republicans before, so I’m not sure why we should expect it to matter this time.

                • joe from Lowell

                  It’s not shame or integrity that stayed their hands after the 2011 debt ceiling talks, eclipse.

                  It was an awareness that the attacks wouldn’t work. As the “$700 billion Medicare cut” line – still being used in 2012, three and a half years after it was rolled out – demonstrates, the Republicans are quite willing to launch hypocritical attacks against actual cuts that Obama actually signs into law. As the complete silence in the 2012 campaign about Obama “putting Social Security and Medicare on the table” shows, proposed cuts that he doesn’t sign into law are a different matter.

              • joe from Lowell

                The GOP, of course, is now attacking Obama, predictably and predicted, for putting the cuts on the backs of our seniors.

                And if the cuts actually happen, they will be able to do so effectively. If they do not, it will be 2011 all over again.

                • Random

                  And if the cuts actually happen, they will be able to do so effectively.

                  Not effectively, no.

                  In order for the cuts to actually happen a significant number of Republicans have to vote for them, after having already voted for them in the past, after having publicly insisted that they be given a chance to vote on them this time, after having publicly praised the concept and complained that it doesn’t cut enough.

                  It directly plays into the Democrat’s hands.

                  This also involves motivating Republican base voters in a mid-term election with a Big Government message of joining with the Kenyan Traitor to raise taxes. On top of their internal divisions over social and racial issues.

  • Ben Franklin

    I don’t understand why he’s all jiggy with gun-control. Why isn’t he doing Pressers every day on SS and Medicare? (rhetorical question)

    But the loyalists on the left are trying variants of the 11th dimensional chess argument, some quite condescendingly, when it’s not that hard to see what is really going on. Obama is a Rubinie. Obama is a neoliberal. Obama in 2006 and again in the Presidential debates made it clear he wants to “reform” Social Security and Medicare. He sees undoing the New Deal as the anchor of his legacy. He’s probably envying the Maggie Thatcher obits and wondering if he’ll get ones at least as good.

    Look at his latest plans for negotiating the budget, with much of his party in revolt. From the Associated Press


    But instead of moving Congress nearer a grand bargain, the Obama’s proposals so far have managed to anger Republicans and Democrats alike….

    As part of the administration’s effort to win over Republicans, Obama will have a private dinner at the White House with about a dozen GOP senators Wednesday night. The budget is expected to be a primary topic, along with proposed legislation dealing with gun control and immigration.

    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/04/obama-moves-forward-with-cutting-social-security-and-medicare-as-we-lecture-europe-otherwise.html#fce1lfiWRrIYURCg.99

    • Anonymous

      Holy shit. It’s really sad what happened to Yves Smith. I don’t really like accusing left Obama critics of “Obama derangement syndrome” but what else can b e said in this case? She predicts a terrible bargain will come from this, and then immediately demands people apologize for being wrong about her prediction. About the future.

      • El Guapo

        Its amusing how the Obama dead-enders have come up with their own version of the “bush derangement syndrome” slur that the bush dead-enders like Krauthammer used against critics. Don’t you dare question The Leader!!! Authoritarianism is not a pretty thing.

        • Random

          You have to admit, it’s fair to apply that term to the many people who keep ascribing bizarre, irrational motives to the man or are absolutely committed to the belief that he’s completely divorced from any form of political awareness.

          To wit:

          “Obama is doing this because he cares most about winning the approval of David Brooks and the Broderists”

          “Obama in his heart of hearts wants to pass this CPI thing because he’s secretly a conservative Republican who hates poor people and wants to help out his rich buddies”

          “Obama has no clue how to deal with with the guys he’s been dealing with for the past 5 years and that he just crushed in the last election.”

          “Obama had no inkling that his own base would flip out over a reduction in SS benefits”

          All notions that have certainly been advanced here and elsewhere, but to which no rational person would subscribe if they just, you know, think logically about this for maybe 5 minutes.

          • So, okay, I have thought about this for five minutes. But I still can’t come up with a reason of why he did this that would not lead to me being described as having “Obama Derangement Syndrome”. Any suggestions?

            • Random

              Which of the above notions do you agree with?

              Consider this:

              At this point Obama can back off of the CPI proposal any time he wants with absolutely no risk or backlash from his base. It actually improves his standing.

              The GOP on the other hand is married to this policy and can’t back off it. The conservatives are flipping out on the one GOP Congressman that tried that “Obama hates seniors” stunt and even threatening to leave the party if their leaders don’t support the CPI adjustment. Whatever criticism towards the idea that is coming from the right is complaints that it doesn’t go far enough. This in addition to their divisions over social and racial issues?

            • joe from Lowell

              I suggest you give up politics and take up knitting.

      • Scott Lemieux

        And, also, chained CPI is really shitty policy but even if we leave aside the fact that it’s being proposed in a form that has no chance of being enacted passing it would hardly “end the New Deal.” If any cut to Social Security benefits ends the New Deal Carter did it in 1977.

        • jeer9

          If this is a reference to the notch issue, your comment is laughably hackish.

          • Scott Lemieux

            It’s reference to the fact that Carter proposed and signed a bill that cut Social Security benefits. But I understand that it doesn’t count when the most liberal president ever does it, because of all of his imaginary torture prosecutions and all.

            • jeer9

              Carter ends the New Deal with the notch compromise. You really should be doing stand-up.

              • Hogan

                Your beef is with Yves Smith, not Scott. Go back and read the quote.

                • jeer9

                  Thanks for clarify that, Hogan. I took Lemieux’s statement as an expression of his usual animus toward Carter.

                • Malaclypse

                  Well, he is History’s Greatest Monster.

              • Scott Lemieux

                Carter ends the New Deal with the notch compromise. You really should be doing stand-up.

                Wow, rarely has a point been missed by such a wide margin. Impressive.

      • I’d never heard of Yves Smith until Stoller was blogging there. So I’ve never had any perception of Yves Smith being someone to take seriously.

        • Malaclypse

          She used to be one of the go-to econ bloggers, before she decided to team up with people like Lambert Strether. It really is sad.

          • More evidence that it hasn’t been just tea partiers who’ve lost their minds over the Obama presidency.

            • I’d love to see some stats about whether Obama’s hand anomalously many leftist turn hard on him. In a way, leftier than thou ism is a perennial feature of US politics and it claims a few of our writers every cycle. (Cf Hitchens and Clinton.)

              I don’t have a good feel for if Obama has had it worse. It is prima facie very plausible.

      • joe from Lowell

        I don’t really like accusing left Obama critics of “Obama derangement syndrome” but what else can b e said in this case?

        I Wasn’t Wrong On The Internet Syndrome.

        Some people have accurately predicted the outcomes of these charades. Others have not, and they’re pissed.

        • Jay B.

          Like the brilliant success of the sequester gambit. Who could have predicted a terrible idea about across-the-board government slashing would have ever been palatable to the GOP? It’s amazing, I tell you.

          The “painting the GOP in a box” has won exactly once. It was a loser for the Dems in 2010 who sought to cut Medicare and what it won in 2012 was terrible polling for the House GOP, it didn’t flip the House nor did it help, really, against Romney.

          But keep fucking that chicken. They’ll pick you for the team yet, Joe.

  • joe from Lowell

    It’s such bad politics that it cratered his opponents’ popularity each and every time it’s been done so far.

    If we got rid of all punditry that argues “The objectively smartest political strategy for the Democrats just so happens to line up exactly with my preferred policy platform,” he internet would run a lot faster.

    • Joe, I agree with youm about how it played out in the past and the fact that Obama is rerunning a successful play.

      I’m little concerned about them overplaying it. (This is what I was trying to get across to Random with little success.). Yes, it worked. Yes, if the republicans try to take the offer he can poison it some more. But it seems like it wouldn’t be that hard for it to flip into a bad situation or to one where CCPI seemed like the best of a bad set of choices.

      And it’s not like Obama never gets overconfident (cf the first debate with Romney). So, you’re a closer admin watcher than I am, do you think they’ve perhaps gotten too comfortable with this ploy?

      (I also worry that just as some folks don’t think it’s a ploy and a bad idea that some with start to think it’s not a ploy and a good idea.)

  • Ben Franklin

    He’s getting closer to Rand Paul (with drones and Marijuana antipodes) every day.

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