The Democratic logic behind the deal is that the Republicans may support having some tax revenue in the second round of savings as a way to avoid deep Pentagon cuts, but some liberals place little hope in this working. For one thing, many Republicans have made clear that they prioritize their strong anti-tax stance over defense spending.
Some liberals also said that the prospect of a trigger with deep Pentagon cuts was not necessarily something to celebrate, despite their historic support for trimming military spending. A big whack at the Pentagon would result in job losses and would, under the trigger’s terms, be coupled with deep cuts in non-defense programs.
In addition, a sudden hit to the Pentagon would cause problems for Obama as he winds down two wars, noted Robert Borosage of the liberal Campaign for America’s Future. “It will put more pressure on the commander in chief than the Republicans,” he said.
Also declining to celebrate the trigger was another leading advocate of reining in defense spending, retired Army Col. Andrew Bacevich, now at Boston University. “The challenge Washington faces is to cut the bloated Pentagon budget without being capricious and arbitrary about it,” he said in an e-mail.
Even with the tough trigger, Robert Greenstein, president of the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, predicted that the new committee would be unable to agree on the next round of savings. House Republicans are too set against taxes, he said, and the Medicare and Social Security cuts that would be needed to produce the savings without taxes are double what Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) discussed.
As a result, Greenstein predicted a “cataclysmic” lame-duck session after the 2012 election, as the country faces the double whammy of the cuts called for by the trigger and the expiration of tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush. Some liberals see this as Obama’s moment of leverage, when he can declare that he will sign an extension of tax cuts only on the lower income brackets, daring Republicans to let all the tax cuts expire if they do not go along.
Some liberals expressed hope that they would, at least, have public opinion on their side as the debate moved on, with the Democrats contrasting their call for higher taxes on the wealthy with the Republicans’ call for deep cuts in Medicare.
But the support for Democrats’ negotiating position in most polls only made more maddening the party’s latest concessions, liberals said. They acknowledged that Obama had few options with a default looming, but blamed him for not heading the crisis off by demanding that the ceiling be lifted as part of December’s tax-cut extension.
More generally, they faulted him for having adopted the Republicans’ framing on the need for austerity at a time when the economy still suffers from a lack of demand. This may have been intended to boost Obama’s standing with some voters, they said, but they feared it would have the opposite effect come Election Day.
“We’ll see whether it works politically, but I can tell you it’s not been good for the economy,” Mishel said.
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