Friday, January 04, 2013

The liberal Reagan of the Wall Street Journal's imagining

Democrats worried that Obama will get rolled in the looming debt ceiling/sequester fight might turn to the right wing commentariat for comfort.  To his enemies, he now bestrides Capitol Hill like a colossus while the GOP leadership walks under his huge legs and peeps about to find themselves dishonorable graves.

I don't think they're right. But I find it refreshing.  Bracing. You might almost say exhilarating. Start with Charles Krauthammer:
The rout was complete, the retreat disorderly. President Obama got his tax hikes — naked of spending cuts — passed by the ostensibly Republican House of Representatives... now that he’s past the post, he’s free to be himself — a committed big-government social democrat...

 Having promised more government, he then promised more taxes — on “millionaires” and “companies with a lot of lobbyists,” of course. It was a bold affirmation of pre-Clintonian tax-and-spend liberalism.

Why not? He had just won Round 1: raising rates. Round 2 is to raise yet more tax revenue by eliminating deductions. After all, didn’t John Boehner offer him $800 billion of such loophole-closing revenue just a few weeks ago?
Krauthammer's portrayal of Obama as more liberal than Clinton is of course ridiculous. In the budget wars, framed as the deficit reduction wars, the score so far, minus the looming sequestered spending cuts, is $1 trillion in spending cuts vs. $600 billion in new revenue -- laying aside Obama's tax cuts.  Meanwhile, by a bipartisan consensus sealed by Obama's 2007 campaign promises, 85% of the Bush tax cuts are now cast in stone. The bumped-up but still historically low income tax rates established by Clinton and the Democrats in 1993 are a distant dream.  Obama's current ask, meanwhile, is to balance subsequent spending cuts with further tax increases to reach the total of  $1.2 trillion in new revenue over ten years he's proposed in various forms for two years (with a short-lived bump-up this fall to $1.6 trillion) -- about a quarter of the revenue that would be gained by reverting to Clinton era rates. In busted negotiations, he has signed onto both raising the Medicare eligibility age and pinning Social Security raises to chained-CPI, a slower growing measure of inflation than the one currently in use. He's also squeezed Medicare payments to providers and insurers by over $700 billion/ten years and proposed another $350 billion in his 2013 budget.

Obama is hardly the "fucking steamroller" that Eliot Spitzer imagined himself.  But Krauthammer views him as such. And he's not alone. The Wall Street Journal editorial board also fears that Republicans in Congress will break against that great rock that is Obama:
it is fair to ask how the GOP keeps getting maneuvered into these box canyons where the only way out is to give President Obama 90% of what he wants in return for very little. Mr. Boehner in particular has tried twice to negotiate a budget deal with Mr. Obama, only to have the President both times increase his demands midstream and then ambush him publicly.

Mr. Obama's political strategy over the next two years will be what it was on the tax cliff: Peel off five or more Republicans to pass liberal priorities in the Senate, then corner House Republicans with a media barrage until they surrender. This puts a premium on Mr. McConnell maintaining GOP unity in the Senate, but such discipline often ends with the first call from a Sunday news show to the usual suspects.

The next challenge will be the debt-limit deadline arriving in early March. Mr. Boehner says he wants a dollar in spending cuts (over 10 years) for every dollar increase in the debt limit. But Mr. Obama says he won't even deign to negotiate over the debt limit, and in any case any spending cuts must come with more tax increases.

That may be a debt-limit bluff, but even if it is the GOP will have to show heretofore unseen determination to call that bluff. Mr. Obama will say Republicans are risking national default and recession, most of Wall Street will echo him, and the Treasury will maneuver to apply maximum political pressure—for example, by claiming it can't pay Social Security benefits.

We'll support efforts to cut spending and reform entitlements, but the political result will be far worse if Republicans start this fight only to cave in the end. You can't take a hostage you aren't prepared to shoot. Do the two GOP leaders have a better strategy today than they did in 2011, and do they have the backbench support to execute it?
You can't take a hostage you aren't prepared to shoot? Pause: this is not the clarion call to economic terrorism that it sounds like.  The Journal-ists go on to counsel that since Republicans will not shoot, they should seize on lesser leverage -- the sequester-- and choose more modest, focused goals.

In fact, they compare Republicans today to Democrats under Reagan, holding the latter up as models:
Two models here are liberal Democrats. During the Reagan years when the GOP held the Senate, John Dingell used the Energy and Commerce Committee to highlight executive branch sins (real and imagined), while Henry Waxman used every lever of power to expand entitlement benefits. Republicans should do a reverse Waxman, reforming the likes of Medicaid quietly and at the margin until they can do it wholesale.

The larger challenge is to rank-and-file Republicans as much as it is to Messrs. Boehner and McConnell. They face a determined President—backed by a pliant media—who wants to break the GOP. Republicans will help him do that unless they stay united and use their limited but still considerable power to pick fights they can win.
So there it is: Obama as the liberal Reagan. Takes a Democrat anguishing about 'sliding Obama' through the looking glass?

Related: Liberal Reagan - not

UPDATE: Kevin Drum remonstrates: we should not take Krauthammer too seriously:
Does this mean that Krauthammer really thinks Obama has won a world historical victory? I doubt it. He's simply doing what pundits and politicians always do: portraying events in a way most likely to rally the troops for the next battle. Krauthammer wants to scare conservatives into holding firm in the next round of negotiations, and the best way to do that is by pretending that Round 1 was a loss of brobdingnagian proportions. One more like that and liberals will have routed us completely!

This is just blather.
Perhaps. I don't read Krauthammer very often.  I regard this as little more than a mental health break in any case. I'm worried that the real Obama will make major spending concessions without getting any new revenue.  At the same time, though, Kevin should note that the WSJ piece takes almost the opposite tack: that the GOP should give up on economic terrorism and focus on more modest, attainable goals than rolling back the welfare state.

UPDATE II: On the right, it's not just the WSJ editorial board  that's casting debt ceiling brinksmanship as a dead end for the GOP; Newt Gingrich said the same thing this morning, as Greg Sargent notes.  Until this morning, Sargent has been at peak anxiety worrying that the GOP will frame a dent ceiling showdown in their own terms, as legitimate hardball; now he too begins to wonder whether that 'leverage' is fast deflating.  Could it be that Obama will prove to have calculated the pressure points better than his many allies (myself included) who fear that he once again put himself in position to be blackmailed? I also wonder whether he didn't deliberately embrace a sequester deadline near the debt ceiling to give both sides cover to negotiate under a threat less catastrophic than default.

1 comment:

  1. Krauthammer ain't rallying anybody. Remember October? Republicans--so many of whom are authoritarians--thrive on victory, real or imagined, and wither in defeat, which is demoralizing to them and boosting to us. Well, me, certainly.
    Krauthammer may lie about a number of things, but rest assured, if he writes that his team lost, he genuinely believes it.