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Posted at 09:08 AM ET, 04/18/2012

The Morning Plum: Some questions for the Buffett Rule’s critics

The Senate has already dispatched the Buffett Rule to history, but the battle over it lives on: Critics continue hammering it as a proxy for Obama’s prioritization of election year politics over efforts to find a comprehensive solution to the deficit.

Robert Samuelson, for instance, says in today’s column that he favors the Buffett Rule, and that it’s a good idea in principle, but that the debate over it has been a distraction.

Says Samuelson: “the Buffett Rule has done more harm than good because the Obama administration has exaggerated its significance and used it to distract attention from more serious problems: huge budget deficits and the sluggish recovery.” He adds: “serious deficit reductions would require cuts in popular programs, including Social Security and Medicare, as well as broad-based tax increases. Obama has been less forthcoming on these touchy subjects.”

No one claims the Buffett Rule will wipe away our fiscal problems. But a primary obstacle to the type of comprehensive solution favored here by Samuelson and others — a mix of serious spending cuts and tax increases — is that Republicans are not willing to give any ground on new revenues from the wealthy.

Indeed, you can argue that this is the main obstacle to a search for a solution. After all, Dems have signaled that they are willing to accept some entitlements cuts, albeit not as large as some fiscal critics would like. By contrast, Republicans have not proven willing to make any meaningful concessions when it comes to increasing the amount the rich contribute towards deficit reduction.

So here are the questions. Isn’t it true that the primary stumbling block to any comprehensive solution at this point is GOP intransigence on new revenues from the wealthy? If so, how are we supposed to get Republicans to give ground on this point without a series of pressure campaigns — such as the battle over the Buffett Rule — that at least have a chance at rendering that position politically unsustainable?

If a public argument over the Buffett Rule is a step in the direction of weakening the GOP’s commitment to an overall principle that makes the larger solution sought by the likes of Samuelson impossible, why not have that argument? Don’t voters deserve to hear that principle litigated by the major parties in an election year?

* The centrist dodge, ctd.: Tom Friedman again calls for a third party candidate for president. But as always, the approach he wants that third party to adopt — a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to fix our fiscal problems — is already being championed by Obama and Dems.

How does Friedman get around this problem? With the usual trick — he claims Obama and Dems aren’t going quite far enough in the direction he wants that third party to go in. Even if you allow this to be the case, this dodge still is deeply misleading, and reads like a deliberate trick designed to burnish the centrist, above-the-fray bona fides of the writer. It obscures the basic truth that one party is already willing to take steps towards embracing the type of compromise that Friedman himself wants — the difference is only one of degree — while the other party is the only real reason such a compromise is impossible.

More on the “centrist dodge” right here.

* Obama campaign launching ads targeting Latinos: Karen Tumulty reports that the Obama campaign is going up in Colorado, Nevada and Florida with Spanish-language ads touting Obama’s education record and claiming Obama “understands” them.

The early round of ads is a sign Team Obama wants to quickly lock down the Latino vote before Romney can shake off the extreme primary positions he took on immigration. The choice of states underscores how central Latinos are to Obama’s hopes of getting reelected by holding western states to offset expected Rust Belt losses.

* Romney and Obama in dead heat: The latest presidential polling comes from The New York Times and CBS News, which finds Romney and Obama deadlocked at 46 percent of registered voters apiece.

One interesting nugget: “the poll continues to show a lack of strong enthusiasm among many Republican voters for Mr. Romney’s candidacy. One in three say they would enthusiastically support him in November.” Of course, for conservatives, the possibility of getting rid of Obama will likely more than make up for that lack of enthusiasm or for any doubts about Romney’s commitment to their principles.

Pollster.com’s average of polls also shows a dead heat.

* Obama re-elect reality check of the day: Sean Trende makes a pretty comprehensive case that this election is shaping up as a referendum on Obama’s performance, and not as a choice, as Team Obama hopes. The tell: Obama’s approval rating has regularly tracked very closely with his share of the vote in polls, which is a metric to keep an eye on.

* Romney’s gender-gap problem: A great point from Chris Cillizza: New polling shows Romney is trailing Obama among young women in particular by a whopping 45 points, which, if it holds, portends serious problems not just for Romney, but for future GOP presidential nominees.

Also, Cillizza digs into the history and notes this, which could be problematic for Romney: “Lose women by any more than 11 points and it’s difficult for a Republican to get elected to the White House.”

* Dems keep hitting Romney over women’s issues: The above numbers explain why today’s DNC video focuses on Romney’s proud acceptance of the endorsement of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and his support for a forced ultrasound bill. You can’t overstate how big a bet Dems are placing on the women’s vote — particularly independent and suburban women — as Obama’s route to reelection, given the bad economy and the likelihood that he won’t be able to make up ground he’s lost among men.

* And more muddled GOP messaging about Obama and economy: House Speaker John Boehner, in a CBS News interview:

“This election is going to be a referendum on the president’s economic policies. They’ve not only not helped the economy, they’ve actually made it worse.”

Of course, Romney has been regularly acknowledging that the economy is, in fact, improving, but only in spite of Obama’s policies. It's not immediately clear how the economy can be getting both better and worse at the same time.

What else?

By  |  09:08 AM ET, 04/18/2012

 
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