Obama in 2011 has been far more on message than he was in the first two years of his presidency. He is building on his track record of successful negotiation with Republicans late last year to lock in the expectation that there will be further substantive compromise. He refers constantly to compromise accomplished and bids to set the parameters for compromise to come. He alternates the olive branch -- we all agree that there must be cuts, and here are mine -- with his line in the sand: the austerity can't undercut the investments he's defined as essential. I believe that the repetition will resonate as negotiation heats up. Here's how he hit the key refrains this week:
1. The setting -- A Florida classroom -- reinforced both sides of the message (common ground with Republicans, and the need to preserve essential investments:
I’m talking with you from Miami, Florida, where I’m visiting Miami Central High School, a school that’s turning itself around on behalf of its kids. And I came here with Jeb Bush, former governor of this state, because he and I share the view that education isn’t a partisan issue – it’s an American issue.2) Building on the track record of compromise:
What’s also helping to fuel this economic growth are the tax cuts that Democrats and Republicans came together to pass in December and I signed into law – tax cuts that are already making Americans’ paychecks bigger and allowing businesses to write off their investments, freeing up more money for job creation.3) Offsetting budget-cutting frenzy with his investment agenda:
Just as both parties cooperated on tax relief that is now fueling job growth, we need to come together around a budget that cuts spending without slowing our economic momentum. We need a government that lives within its means without sacrificing job-creating investments in education, innovation, and infrastructure.
We need to come together, Democrats and Republicans, around a long-term budget that sacrifices wasteful spending without sacrificing the job-creating investments in our future.
4) Within his investment/spending cuts structure, a dollop of partisan chastisement (delivered with that signature only-adult-in-the-room posture):
Talk of compromise is cheap. Obama's refusal to lay out a long-term tax reform/budget proposal made many suspect he's planning to run out the clock until 2012 (though I am more convinced by the case, made by Obama, various old Dem bulls in the senate, and political scientists, that an early presidential blueprint would likelier kill that jump-start negotiations). But speech by speech, he is upping the ante of expectation that substantive negotiation, first on this year's budget and then on a longer-term deal, will occur. And he's also bid to define the terms of negotiation more broadly, and more conceptually, than any other participant.