Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Obama's Wednesday press conference and the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

President (and Social Security opponent?) Obama opened his press conference today saying "our top priority has to be jobs and growth."

But the austerity program he's been discussing as his alternative to the so-called fiscal cliff - or "austerity bomb" - isn't giving top priority of jobs and growth. Obama, not surprisingly uses the "fiscal cliff" term.

Obama has been framing the core of the Nov-Dec budget fight as being focused on taxes, and emphasized the value of tax cuts, echoing as he so often does the Republican framing on fiscal issues.

But he set a low bar for such a deal all the way through the campaign by demanding that the wealthiest show pay "a little bit more," a phrase he repeated in today's press conference as describing his electoral mandate. So his public opening position in the current negotiation is basically that the only compromise he needs from the other side is some nominal or cosmetic increase in the amount of taxes paid by the upper brackets. That's pretty weak tea. And he said he was "open to new ideas" and included his usual postpartisan praise for compromise, saying "compromise is hard."

And the Democratic President is certainly not making any emphatic promises that he will prevent any and all cuts to benefits for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But he says he wants a deal that's "big" and "comprehensive." He did mention "entitlements" at one point in the context of locking in "long term" deficit reduction. "Entitlements" is a buzzword for cutting benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Which means he still wants to go for his destructive "Grand Bargain."

And, again, this is the starting point for what Cenk Uygur calls Obama's "legendarily disastrous negotiating". (Why the Grand Bargain Is One-Sided and Totally Unfair Huffington Post 11/12/2012)

At his press conference, he defended his caving to the Republicans in the lame-duck session two years ago on the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest.

If there was a glimmer of optimism for Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid supporters in today's press conference, it was that Obama seemed to indicated that he was willing to separate the issue of the Bush tax cuts out as a separate decision from the rest of the austerity package. The best outcome for Social Security supporters in the negotiations in November and December would be for that to happen, with the Bush tax cuts for the upper 2% either ended through a separate decision in the lame-duck session or through their simple expiration due to Congressional inaction. That would be a victory for Medicare supporters. (Or maybe I should say SSMM supporters, since I'm using the terms interchangeably.)

David Bromwich has followed Obama's public performance closely and is very perceptive about a lot of it, though he can't resist a bit of pop psychology now and then. Obama in the current "fiscal class" negotiations is continuing the pattern Bromwich describes in Now the Democrats Must Lead Huffington Post 11/14/2012: "His way of negotiating with the Republicans from 2009 through 2011 was to offer them everything in his opening bid. Their response was to ask for more; so Obama asked his party for more; and things ground to a halt."

Oh, and he also said he wasn't planning to do [bleep] about climate change.

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