The White House released its proposed budget yesterday, packaged as “shared sacrifice.” Deep cuts to social programs sit at one end of the budgetary teeter totter; and a rise in income taxes for those earning over $250,000 at the other. One can be forgiven for asking: If President Obama, despite clear campaign promises to the contrary, couldn’t get a Democratic Congress to let the ruinous Bush tax cuts expire last year, how in hell can we expect that he can do it now that the Rethugs control the House?
As The Nation‘s Ari Berman points out in his article The Obama Budget: Challenging or Appeasing the GOP?:
The cuts the president has outlined barely offset the tab of temporarily extending the Bush tax cuts, which added $858 billion to the deficit over two years, including $125 billion for Americans making over $250,000 and slashing the estate tax. If Obama ends up once again extending the Bush tax cuts in 2012, the savings he envisions in the current budget will be completely nullified.
Taking tax increases off the teeter totter effectively turns into a catapult, hurling poor students, working mothers, the chronically unemployed, and shivering poor families into the abyss.
Meanwhile, his unwillingness to play hardball with the GOP last year will result in increased hardship in real time for millions of Americans who are struggling to survive this recession. We’re living in odd times when a Democratic president is okay spending billions of dollars on an unpopular and seemingly unwinnable war in Afghanistan but has no problem cutting heating aid for poor Americans in the midst of the coldest winter in memory.
Indeed. Let’s dispense with the illusion that President Obama’s budget is anything but DOA on The Hill and look at it through the political lens of the 2012 presidential election, which is obviously the White House’s top priority.
The budget proposal is as much about politics as policy. This plan will have to pass a divided Congress and marks the first step in a long game of political jujitsu with the GOP. “The White House is trying to reframe the debate as the GOP’s ‘cut and grow’ versus Obama’s ‘cut and invest,’ ” argues Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent.
Yet the president is playing on the GOP’s turf. The debate is over cuts vs. cuts. At a time of 9 percent unemployment, neither party is laying out a roadmap for how to put people back to work and lift the country out of its economic morass.
Pointing out the sucky grasp of narrative that the White House continues to exhibit, Ari quotes himself from an article he wrote last month titled Obama: Triangulation 2.0? :
The president’s relentless attachment to “pragmatism,” which has become an ideology unto itself, has allowed the GOP’s dominant narrative about the economic crisis—that big government, once again, is to blame—to go unchallenged, especially when Obama sides with Republicans thematically on issues like deficit reduction and freezes on discretionary spending and federal pay. “In the absence of an alternative narrative the Republican story is the only one the public hears,” Robert Reich, Clinton’s labor secretary and a onetime Obama economic adviser, noted on his blog. Hence the rise of the Tea Party and the potency of antigovernment right-wing populism nowadays.
Natures abhors a vacuum. The White House best get its story straight, or watch the life get sucked right out of it.
UPDATE: David Cay Johnson fleshes out the issue in his article titled Obama and the GOP: United Against the Working Poor, which begins thusly:
Who says bipartisanship is dead?
On Capitol Hill, the Democrats and Republicans may no longer play cards and drink together, but that does not seem to stop them from working together to shift tax burdens down the income ladder even when it violates their promises on the campaign trail.
Grover Norquist calls bipartisanship the political equivalent of date rape. But there is one group that President Obama, many congressional Democrats, and all congressional Republicans ganged up on in December — the working poor.