President Obama’s budget blueprint may have been unanimously rejected by Congress in late May, but suddenly the president is the courageous, ambitious one on budget talks after issuing new rhetoric indicating a willingness to make cuts in social programs like Medicare.
In his Sunday front-page story, “House Speaker Is Pulling Back On Deficit Deal – $4 Trillion Plan Stalls Over Tax Increase,” congressional reporter Carl Hulse (pictured) continued to shade his own word choices in a pro-Democratic direction. Though the headline accurately stated that the stumbling block in negotiations are Democratic calls for a “tax increase,” Hulse reliably avoided the unpopular phrase in his report. The text box also underlined the idea of Obama the risk-taker: “An attempt at something big that some Republicans found too big.”
Citing differences over tax revenues, House Speaker John A. Boehner said on Saturday night that he would pull back from joint efforts with President Obama to reach a sweeping $4 trillion deficit-reduction plan tied to a proposal to increase the federal debt limit.
On the eve of a second round of high-level bipartisan talks set for Sunday, Mr. Boehner issued a statement saying he would now urge negotiators to instead focus on crafting a smaller package more in line with the $2 trillion to $3 trillion in spending cuts and revenue increases negotiated earlier by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
As potential elements of the plan became public, Mr. Boehner was encountering stiff resistance from fellow Republicans determined to oppose any package containing proposals that could be construed as a tax increase, worried such a deal could cost the party dearly in the 2012 elections. In the initial White House talks last Thursday, Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the No. 2 House Republican, broke with the speaker and pushed for a mid-range agreement.
This is as close as Hulse got to showing Democrats want tax hikes on “affluent taxpayers.”
Democrats have made clear that they will not back a budget deal built solely on spending cuts and are demanding a “balanced approach” that extracts some new revenues from corporations and affluent taxpayers.
In his talks with the White House, Mr. Boehner indicated willingness to consider $1 trillion in new revenue, with most of the new money to be generated through an overhaul of the tax code that would be pushed through Congress next year. Both Republicans and Democrats expressed unease that a deal cut now could guarantee that lawmakers would follow through on tax reform.
Hulse followed up on Monday with a front-page “news analysis,” “A Lofty Vision Vs. Realpolitik – G.O.P. Split on Budget Led Boehner to Walk.”
By all accounts, the agreement taking shape called for closing corporate tax loopholes. And it was linked to a broad tax overhaul that could have left uncertain the fate of tax breaks for the nation’s affluent, which are due to expire after 2012. That was going to cause serious trouble with Republicans who are wedded to those Bush-era tax cuts and who consider allowing them to expire equivalent to a tax hike.
Columnist Ross Douthat more accurately described those “tax breaks for the nation’s affluent” as an increase on “tax rates” Monday: “Tax increases are lurking just over the horizon. The White House hasn’t made spending concessions just because the president wants to campaign as a deficit cutter next year. It has made concessions because it knows that taxes are already scheduled to go up when the Bush-era tax rates expire at the end of 2012.”
And Monday’s lead story by Mark Landler was another attempt to portray the president as a thwarted hero on the federal budget, despite the lack of an actual new budget proposal (his own budget blueprint was defeated unanimously on a Senate vote of 97-0 in late May): “Obama And G.O.P. Remain At Odds On Deficit Deal – Agree To Keep Talking – President Wants Broad Pact but Republicans Seek Modest Step.”
President Obama tried on Sunday to revive the chances for a sweeping budget agreement to reduce the nation’s deficit and repair its perilous finances, but Congressional Republicans continued to balk, insisting on a more modest deal to avert a default on the national debt.
White House officials said Mr. Obama was still determined to pursue the boldest package possible -- one that would require new tax revenue as well as cuts in Medicare and other entitlement programs -- but he faces steadfast opposition from Republicans and growing qualms among Democrats.
A counterpoint to the Times’s reporting was again provided by Douthat in his Monday column, “The Method To Their Madness.” His last three bullet points (in bold below) backed up the Republican argument on holding the line on tax hikes, since some incresaes are coming anyway and given the fact that spending cuts that are agreed to often disappear afterward.
Tax increases are lurking just over the horizon. The White House hasn’t made spending concessions just because the president wants to campaign as a deficit cutter next year. It has made concessions because it knows that taxes are already scheduled to go up when the Bush-era tax rates expire at the end of 2012....Bipartisan budget deals usually deliver fewer spending cuts than they promise....in absolute terms, no bipartisan bargain in the last three decades has delivered anywhere near the spending reductions that it promised....The long-term deck is stacked in favor of tax increases.
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