The deficit-reduction speech President Obama delivered from the Rose Garden on Monday underscores the sharp strategic pivot that he and his administration have made in the wake of the debt-ceiling negotiations.
Call it lessons learned the hard way, or a necessary readjustment by a politician, but the Obama who spoke on Monday was in a far different place politically and stylistically from the president who tried to pull off a grand bargain with House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in July and August.
Graphic breaks down President Obama’s plan to find more than $3 trillion in budget savings over a decade.
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Obama is a politician whose instinct often has been to find ways to entice or cajole both parties to produce cross-party consensus. Republicans would say he failed to do that on his stimulus and health-care measures, but Democrats regularly worry that he will give in too easily to get a deal.
On Monday, he continued a transition toward greater partisanship that began with his speech to a joint session of Congress two weeks ago. Rarely has this president been as blunt in his challenges to the other party as he was on Monday. Rarely has he been so willing to draw lines in the sand. Rarely has he waved the threat of a veto with such emphasis.
Obama has gone from a president who talked openly about his willingness to rile his own party by making concessions on entitlements to get a debt deal with the Republicans to a politician determined to reconnect with his base as the two parties head into a new round of negotiations and an election campaign in which the stakes could not be higher.
Monday’s speech was another sign that many of the working assumptions Obama and his advisers took into the debt-ceiling talks have been replaced — some because of practical necessity but more fundamentally because of political necessities. Whatever hope the president had of coming out of the debt-ceiling debate with an enhanced image as the adult in the room, no matter what the final outcome, collided with the evidence that he and the Republicans both suffered political damage.
With his own political standing weakened and his base in near-revolt, the president may have had no choice other than to reappraise his economic and political strategies. Attempting to stay above the fray and appealing for at least a temporary cessation in the partisan wars in Washington was no longer an option.
Gone is any illusion that he and Boehner can really make a deal along the lines discussed during the summer — a deal that would take a serious bite out of entitlements, particularly Medicare, and include some new taxes. He no longer appears willing to antagonize his base. Instead, Obama is under pressure to produce a program that can create jobs and reassert his standing as the leader of the Democrats.
But with Boehner declaring taxes off the table in his speech last week, the president was left with little choice. He came back with his counterargument that the only fair way to reduce long-term deficits is with a combination of taxes and spending cuts — and not the kind of entitlement cuts he once was willing to consider.