Barack Obama, secret deficit hawk? New York Times White House reporter Jackie Calmes showed her usual pro-Obama sympathies in Monday’s enormous front page tick-tock story on the Obama team’s debate over a big deficit reduction plan the president has long promised but failed to deliver: “Obama’s Deficit Dilemma – Adopting a Panel’s Ideas, While Seeming Not To.”
Calmes once again defended the president’s lack of budgetary leadership, though less aggressively than usual. Last February she hailed Obama’s brilliant budgetary maneuvers, and has consistently boosted Obama's stimulus package, while insisting against all history that Obama-care will actually save money.
Calmes began Monday with a White House anecdote explaining why Obama attacked Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan in a speech as Ryan himself sat in the front row (it was all an innocent mistake).
Ten months later, the attack that left Mr. Ryan fuming in the front row is better remembered than the ideas Mr. Obama presented that day, administration supporters lament.
It came just a few months after the president had opted not to endorse the recommendations of a deficit commission he had created in hopes of brokering a bold, bipartisan deficit deal. That gave rise to a portrayal that has stuck, popularized by Republicans, pundits and some Democrats: that the president, out of political timidity, snubbed his own panel’s plan.
Mitt Romney, a Republican presidential candidate, recently charged that Mr. Obama “simply brushed aside” the plan by the so-called Bowles-Simpson commission (named after its two chairmen) -- even though he and most Republicans reject it for its proposed tax increases. Warren E. Buffett, an Obama ally, has said ignoring the plan was “a travesty.” Former Representative John M. Spratt Jr., a Democrat on the commission, said the administration had had an opportunity “to stand up and be counted, and for the most part they weren’t there.”
Yet starting with that April speech, Mr. Obama has come to adopt most of the major tenets supported by a majority of the commission’s members, though his proposals do not go as far. He has called for cutting deficits more than $4 trillion over 10 years by shaving all spending, including for the military, Medicare and Social Security; overhauling the tax code to raise revenues and lower rates; and writing rules to lock in savings.
But he did so months after the commission’s report in December 2010, and largely without acknowledging that he was borrowing from its recommendations. That caution reflected White House concerns about liberals’ hostility to the plan and, aides say, Mr. Obama’s certainty that Republicans would reject anything he endorsed.
(But the GOP fiercely disagrees with Obama (and Calmes's) claim of $4 trillion in deficit reduction. The Times's own Jonathan Wiseman reported February 14: "At the heart of Republican objections is accounting. Mr. Obama boasted of $4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years in his proposal. Republican budget writers on Capitol Hill saw a fraction of that, as little as $300 billion.")
Calmes concluded with the apparently gullible economic advisor Erskine Bowles, inspired by the president’s “commitment” to deficit reduction.
Since then, in speeches around the country, Mr. Obama has emphasized job-creation spending and tax cuts more than deficit reduction. Gone from his still-pending legislation are some of the concessions he offered Mr. Boehner -- presumably in reserve for the elusive grand bargain.
At their recent lunch, Mr. Obama assured Mr. Bowles he would not give up. Mr. Bowles said the president talked of seeing “a real opportunity” for compromise after the election, when Republicans will be eager to avoid the expiration of Bush tax cuts and automatic cuts in military spending -- suggesting another chance for a deal inspired by Bowles-Simpson.
“To see his commitment,” Mr. Bowles said, “gave me real hope.”