Democratic politicians who became deficit fetishists — a phenomenon, it should be said, that began under President Bill Clinton — did so in the delightfully child-like belief that they would get credit going forward as being "responsible stewards" of the economy. This, of course, bespoke an equally delightful child-like belief from the other side, that it was actually interested in deficit reduction, and not using The Deficit merely as an all-purpose excuse to ratchet up the pressure to get rid of programs that helped people that their political base thought unworthy — or, in the case of Paul Ryan, programs that they thought an illegitimate use of the government in the first place, all the while using Democratic deficit hawks as "bipartisan" political cover. This left the Democratic politicians in question hanging out to dry. One of those Democratic politicians, I fear, is the current president of the United States. ...Every time President Obama says the word "deficit" in public, he hurts his re-election campaign. Nobody cares about the deficit except pundits like David Brooks whose minds are perpetually marinading in the conventional wisdom. Otherwise, nobody cares! Least of all Republican Party politicians.
The problem, of course, is that, thanks to two consecutive Democratic presidents, the entire debate is being held on terrain determined by the deficit hawks. Republicans have nothing to protect in this debate because they want to eliminate most of the safety net anyway. Democrats, however, get caught between protecting those programs that have defined the party for 70 years, and trying to be serious about a Republican-fueled deficit that they have agreed is the most serious problem facing the nation. It's their fault they get middled like this, over and over again. [my emphasis]
The fact that we made it through December without Congress and the President agreeing to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid is an excellent thing. But the fight isn't over. Sen. Dick Durbin, who has been one of Obama's main spokespeople on the "fiscal cliff" pseudo-crisis negotiations, suggested a Catfood Commission-style bipartisan commission for 2013 that would recommend cuts in benefits to Social Security - the only purpose for having such a committee, just like it was the only real reason for a "bipartisan" committee like the Bowles-Simpson Catfood Commission stacked with opponents of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (including Dick Durbin!) to recommend benefits cuts in those programs.
We have to remember that just before the November election, Obama was talking about spending up until the middle of 2013 pursuing his Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (Obama, In Morning Joe Interview, Predicts War Inside Republican Party If He Is Reelected Huffington Post 10/29/2012):
President Barack Obama said in an interview Monday that the Republican party would have to overcome an internal war if he were reelected, but expressed hope that the partisan gridlock in Washington could come to an end.This is a neoliberal fantasy, of getting the public to passively accept continuing declines in living standards, opportunities and public services including social insurance and reducing politics to non-ideological tinkering with problems that interfere with corporate profits and the contentment of the One Percent.
"There are a whole range of issues I think where we can actually bring the country together with a non-ideological agenda," Obama said in a pre-taped interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." ...
Asked by host Joe Scarborough what would be different if, in a second term, Obama was once again dealing with a Republican majority in the House, the president expressed more optimism that Democrats and Republicans would come together to tackle the debt and deficit.
"I truly believe that if we can get the deficit and debt issues solved, which I believe we can get done in the lame-duck or in the immediate aftermath of the lame-duck, then that clears away a lot of the ideological underbrush," he said. "And then now we can start looking at a whole bunch of other issues that, as I said, historically have not been that ideological." [my emphasis]
Whether Obama believes in this vision, which is nightmarish rather than idealistic, or whether he just wants the Democratic base to believe in it is interesting. But I think we have to assume he's going to continue to pursue this, even though the Republicans' intransigence during the lame-duck session gives little cause for this postpartisan optimism.
There's even some reason to think he's less willing to risk Republicans making a fool out of him the way they did on the debt ceiling debacle in 2011.
But given his remarkably durable commitment to the Grand Bargain to cut benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we're probably not out of the woods on this as long as Obama is President.
Tags: austerity economics, barack obama, fiscal cliff, grand bargain, medicaid, medicare, social security