President Obama’s public relations problems on the “fiscal cliff” stand-off just got worse. The communications directors for the speaker and majority whip of the House have blasted out this from Marketwatch:
Democrats need to move on reforming entitlements to get a year-end budget deal, former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles said Wednesday after talks between House Republicans leaders and chief executives of big U.S. companies.
“I feel like we made some progress,” Bowles told reporters after the Capitol Hill meeting, held in House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s office. He said Republicans were clear that there’s need for revenue and for entitlement reforms — and added it’s up to Democrats to move in that direction.
The president, fresh off his reelection campaign, may have an exaggerated sense of his own political strength and, more importantly, his ability to convince the American people of things that just aren’t so. Republicans have moved; the president hasn’t. Obama’s campaign-style trip won’t change that. Perhaps for the first time Obama will be forced to ante up. What budget cuts? What’s wrong with a tax reform plan that provides revenue without rate hikes? What entitlement reform proposals?
It’s amazing that Obama got through four years and a reelection without putting these answers on the table. Time may be up.
UPDATE (3:40 p.m.): Perhaps the backlash against Obama’s campaign-rather-than-negotiate strategy has had an effect. Today the White House announced Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Rob Nabors, the administration’s director of legislative affairs, would go up to the Hill tomorrow to talk to the majority and minority leaders of both houses. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office put out a terse statement: “We are eager to hear the administration’s specific plans for protecting jobs and growth while reducing the national debt through strengthening the entitlement system, reducing Washington spending and preventing a tax hike on every American taxpayer. As Sen. McConnell made clear: ‘We can do this. But the President has to lead. That’s the issue here. It’s that simple.’” More important however is the choice of emissaries and the absence of Chief of Staff Jack Lew, widely disliked and distrusted by the Republicans during the debt ceiling talks last year. By contrast, Geithner and Nabors were thought to be constructive players in reaching a deal.