Obama offered no details of how he would approach negotiations with congressional Republicans. But with Washington facing a January deadline to undo more than $500 billion in automatic tax hikes and spending cuts next year, Obama said, “There’s going to be a forcing mechanism to deal with what is the central ideological argument in Washington right now, and that is: How much government do we have, and how do we pay for it?”
Republicans reacted with a yawn to the news that Obama is ready to re-engage on a grand bargain if he wins the election. They noted that his proposal for a cuts-to-taxes ratio of $2.50 to $1, embodied in his most recent budget request, was roundly rejected in both the House and Senate.
“President Obama broke virtually every promise that candidate Obama made in 2008 — including his pledges to turn around our economy, fix our dysfunctional immigration system, cut the deficit and change politics as usual in Washington,” Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams said. “Given his history of broken promises, nobody is taking the president’s phony election year commitments seriously — especially those that he thought were being made in secret to a newspaper editorial board.”
Some Democrats and independent budget analysts were cheered by the new urgency Obama appears ready to place on the debt issue.
“I think the message is the president wants to get right to work putting together a plan to boost economic growth and reduce the long-term deficit in a predictable and credible way,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.
But some Democrats were far less enthusiastic. Obama’s pledge to push again for a grand bargain creates an uncomfortable dynamic for the campaign’s final days, with liberal groups mobilizing to help turn out his voters while simultaneously planning a full-fledged national campaign after Election Day to oppose the kind of budget deal the president has long sought.
The AFL-CIO plans to keep its elaborate network of full-time organizers and union activists in place around the country to pressure lawmakers in both parties — as well as the White House — to steer clear of any cuts to Medicare and Social Security, according to people familiar with the plans.
The same day Obama made his comments to the Iowa newspaper, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a top supporter, published an op-ed in Politico blasting the notion of a grand bargain as “lower tax rates for rich people — paid for by benefit cuts for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These are precisely the issues that are being debated so vigorously in the campaign, and voters do not want anything to do with such a deal.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he had expressed concerns privately to the White House that Obama appeared to be steering clear of firm promises to protect entitlement programs.
“Unlike four years ago,” Sanders said, “the president has not been outspoken in saying he’s not going to cut Social Security.”