February 28, 2024

Obama, Newly Combative, Draws Line Over Long-Term Debt Reduction

Faced with falling poll numbers for his leadership and an anxious party base, Mr. Obama did not just propose but insisted that any long-term debt-reduction plan must not shave future Medicare benefits without also raising taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations.

He uncharacteristically backed up that stand with a veto threat, setting up a politically charged choice for anti-tax Republicans — protect the most affluent or compromise to attack deficits. Confident in the answers most voters would make, Mr. Obama plans to hammer on that choice through 2012, reflecting the fact that the White House has all but given up hopes of a “grand bargain” with Republicans to restore fiscal balance for years to come.

“I will not support — I will not support — any plan that puts all the burden for closing our deficit on ordinary Americans. And I will veto any bill that changes benefits for those who rely on Medicare but does not raise serious revenues by asking the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to pay their fair share,” Mr. Obama said. “We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks who are most vulnerable.”

Mr. Obama also seems to have given up on his strategy of nearly a year, beginning when Republicans won control of the House last November, of being the eager-to-compromise “reasonable adult” — in the White House’s phrasing — in his relations with them. He had sought to build a personal relationship with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio, a man the White House saw as a possible partner across the aisle, in the hopes of making bipartisan progress and simultaneously winning points with independent voters who disdain partisanship. Even if the efforts produced few agreements with Republicans, the White House figured, independents would give Mr. Obama credit for trying.

Instead, the president was unable to close his deal with Mr. Boehner and has only lost independents’ support and left Democrats disillusioned, raising doubts about his re-election prospects.

So after his initial two years of dealing with an economic and financial crisis while pursuing an activist social agenda with Democrats in control of the House and Senate, and then a frustrating third year sharing power with Republicans, Mr. Obama now begins writing a third chapter for his final 15 months that is not the one he had in mind.

“It is fair to say we’ve entered a new phase,” said Dan Pfeiffer, Mr. Obama’s communications director. But he disputed what he called the conventional wisdom behind the president’s shift.

“The popular narrative is that we sought compromise in a quixotic quest for independent votes. We sought out compromise because a failure to get funding of the government last spring and then an extension of the debt ceiling in August would have been very bad for the economy and for the country,” Mr. Pfeiffer added. “We were in a position of legislative compromise by necessity. That phase is behind us.”

In this new phase, Mr. Obama must solidify support among Democrats by standing pat for progressive party principles, while trusting that a show of strong leadership for the policies he believes in will appeal to independents. Polls consistently suggest that perhaps the only thing that unites independents as much as their desire for compromise is their inclination toward leaders who signal strength by fighting for their beliefs.

“The president laid down a marker today that is true to his beliefs,” said Jacob J. Lew, director of Mr. Obama’s Office of Management and Budget. In response, Mr. Boehner said in a statement that Mr. Obama by his deficit-reduction plan “has not made a serious contribution” to the work of a bipartisan joint Congressional committee, which has two months to reach agreement on cutting deficits by at least $1.5 trillion in 10 years.

“The administration’s insistence on raising taxes on job creators and its reluctance to take the steps necessary to strengthen our entitlement programs are the reasons the president and I were not able to reach an agreement previously,” Mr. Boehner said. “And it is evident today that these barriers remain.”

Mr. Obama’s plan to reduce annual deficits up to $4 trillion over a decade does call for subtracting $320 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, building on savings required in his health care law.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: September 19, 2011

An earlier version of this article, and a headline on the Web, mistakenly referred to a figure of more than $3 trillion as the amount of federal government spending that President Obama’s plan would cut. The $3 trillion figure should have referred to the amount the plan would reduce the deficit over 10 years; $1.5 trillion of that deficit reduction will come from tax increases, not spending cuts. The article also gave an incorrect date for the deadline for the bipartisan Congressional committee to come up with its own cuts. It is Nov. 23, not Dec. 23. The article also included a reference to the scale of the proposal that incorrectly described it as a $3 billion plan on top of the $1 billion cut over the summer — the figures should have been $3 trillion and $1 trillion.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c5452d10b3208341d9337f962c08b3ff

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