Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Running behind the Gang of Six

On the theory that presidential advocacy on a given issue polarizes the parties on that issue, I have more than once suggested half-seriously that when Obama decides to put forward a deficit reduction plan, we will know that he's thrown in the towel on a deficit reduction deal. The corollary to date has been that if there's any hope at all for such a deal before the 2012 election, it lies in the negotiations of the Senate Gang of Six, who are using Bowles-Simpson as a baseline. GOP Gang of Six members Saxby Chambliss and Tom Coburn have been bucking GOP orthodoxy by acknowledging that any deficit reduction plan will have to increase Federal revenue.  What they don't need is Barack Obama to make that case for them.

So  now Obama is primed to lay out a plan, and word is that it is to be based (to what extent?) on Bowles-Simpson and the Gang of Six negotiations.  Predictably, the very senators who a month ago were begging for presidential participation are now warning that a presidential endorsement could be the kiss of death:

Aides said that the group is very close to an agreement and that administration officials were pressing them to announce a deal this week. But the group and its allies feared an announcement closely followed by Obama’s endorsement would kill any hope of winning additional Republican support. On Monday, two Republican members, Sens. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), said no deal is likely to be announced until after lawmakers return in May from a two-week Easter recess.

“It’d be pretty hard for [Obama] to hitch himself to something that doesn’t exist yet,” Coburn said. “There’s nothing I’ve agreed to that could be announced this week.”
So what gives? Everything that's unfolded so far since Obama skirted long-term budget planning in the SOTU and in his 2012 budget has been predictable: the Gang of Six negotiations, the radical Ryan plan, the draconian 2011 budget cuts (the last should have been predictable to Obama at least, since his failure to attack the proposed cuts forcefully made a GOP-skewed agreement inevitable).  Is Obama nonetheless nonetheless now feeling forced by events to intervene to stop a further rightward slide in the debate?  If so, why make Bowles-Simpson a baseline?

Supporters Chait, Cohn and Ezra Klein -- not to say longstanding critic Krugman -- see Obama getting rolled down the field.  I can only hope he surprises us, as he has done before -- partially, at least, on the tax cut deal at the end of 2010.  I am left clinging to Fallows' watchword:

We will hope that the qualities we admire in Obama outweigh the ones that make us nervous.

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