Last year, Obama considered a “grand bargain” deal in which Boehner offered $800 billion in additional revenues in exchange for some cuts to Social Security and Medicare, sacred cows for the Democratic Party. This time, Obama’s initial offer calls for double that revenue number, and while he has left the door open to compromise, he has told allies that Social Security would be discussed only in terms of the program’s long-term solvency and not treated as a source for short-term dollars.
Last year, a politically weakened president, struggling to contend with newly empowered House Republicans, focused on behind-the-scenes negotiations — a series of dysfunctional interactions replete with unreturned phone messages, angry exchanges and bitter feelings. This time, Obama is playing the happy warrior, pushing his views in campaign-style events, such as his kitchen-table chat with a middle-class Falls Church family last week and a planned speech this week in the Detroit area.
Obama has even appeared to enjoy himself at times. The White House produced a video showing Obama tapping away at a laptop and sharing lighthearted moments with aides during a Twitter town hall last week.
He chose to respond to one participant, Mandi, who described herself as a recent college grad wondering about the impact of budget cuts, saying, “I like her hair.” Then he wrote, using typical Twitter shorthand to fit the 140-character limit: “cuts w/out revenue = reductions in student loans; work/study & college tax credits expire. Bad for growth. like your hair! -bo”
Obama is feeling pressure from his own base, too, particularly those who worry that despite his strong initial stance in recent weeks he will still wind up giving away too much in revenues and entitlement cuts.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chairman of a caucus of about 90 House liberals, has requested a meeting with White House staffers to lay out their concerns, though no meeting has yet been scheduled. Ellison said he was pleased with the president’s apparent “resolve” on the tax-rate question, but hopes he would remain committed in a second term to ambitious spending on infrastructure.
“Now he needs to show resolve to get other stuff done,” Ellison said.
White House aides have told allies that they might push for an “infrastructure bank” that might be funded at least partly with private dollars. If the economy were to begin growing faster, that might pump additional dollars into government coffers that could be used for administration priorities.
Some officials still hope for the chance to expand early childhood education, college aid or expensive programs that might help achieve Obama’s stated goal of helping poor Americans climb up the economic ladder. But, as one outside ally familiar with White House thinking put it, “they’re puzzled as to how to accomplish it.”