Deficit Hustle: Prez Returns to Politics of Division

The president did the expected thing today - he attacked the Paul Ryan budget proposal as an undoing of America as we know it, proposing instead a more compassionate approach - while avoiding specifics.

Even as he savaged the GOP proposal, Obama was less than specific about his own. He did not say exactly how he would reform how corporations are taxed, what he would do to achieve a simpler tax system or which defense programs he would cut. On Social Security, he not only didn’t announce a proposal but would not say whether one was likely to be included in the final legislation.

“Their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America,” Obama said. He added: “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.”

While attacking GOP ideas, Obama said he wanted to get a deficit reduction plan signed by June, which would be unusually fast considering Congress’s normal place in approving legislation.

But his speech seemed to offer limited room for compromise. He repeatedly called for increasing taxes for people who make more than $250,000 a year to help balance the budget, an idea strongly opposed by many congressional Republicans. He signaled strong opposition to how House Republicans would reform Medicare.

And Obama, who rarely personally interjected himself into the negotiations on the federal budget over the past two weeks, seems prepared to play a similar role on the deficit: He announced that a group of 16 members of Congress and Vice President Biden would negotiate over the legislation, allowing the president to remain out of the day-to-day politicking on the issue.

The White House is doing a grand dance, filled with bobbing and weaving, designed to keep his opponents off balance and voters confused as to the degree of his gameplaying. I long for a president who says, "here's my proposal," and then goes to work building public support for it. For some reason, these guys think the only way to get anything done is to make sure no one knows what they're after. Hmmm, I wonder why.