Right Turn

A Third Way to reelection for Obama

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Third Way to reelection?

The selection of Bill Daley as President Obama's chief of staff was the first bit of evidence, but the hiring of Bruce Reed removes any doubt about the direction Obama is heading.

Reed, Vice President Biden's new chief of staff, was one of the founding fathers of the moderate Democratic Leadership Council, which helped propel Bill Clinton into office and did battle with the left wing of the party. Rather than describe him as "center-left," it is more accurate to say "centrist Democrat who foiled the left." More recently, and tellingly, Reed was executive director of the Simpson-Bowles debt commission; he was widely credited with drafting its report, which included major cuts in entitlements and real tax reform. Notably, the report did not envision a repeal or major refashioning of Obamacare, which was why Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and other conservatives refused to sign on.

As one veteran strategist on Capitol Hill put it: "This is another clear indication that this administration, with reelection in the forefront of their consideration, is now moving to the DLC and far away from the Daily Kos." It also suggests that the agenda may well entail compromise with Republicans on everything except Obamacare.

It's a reasoned and potentially effective strategy. Let's assume that, by 2012, Obama is vigorously waging war in Afghanistan, has agreed to a tax proposal with top marginal rates in the range of 22 to 25 percent, is willing to support a major revision of Social Security, has gotten serious on school reform and has made meaningful cuts in discretionary spending.

Let's say the Republican nominee is Mitt Romney, who cannot use Obamacare against the president since he supported a close approximation of it as governor of Massachusetts. On what basis could Romney oppose Obama? Social issues are hardly front and center these days. Unless unemployment remains at historic highs, it's hard to see a lot of difference between the new-and-improved, Reed-influenced Obama and Romney. Sure, voters may question Obama's sincerity or may hold him accountable for poor stewardship of the economy. Still, you see at least a path to reelection for him, unless his base sits on its hands.

In the short run, Reed's appointment suggests that there are opportunities for deals with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (who may attract a handful of red-state Democrats) and House Speaker John Boehner. (Expect filibuster reform to disappear; it'll be the left that wants to slow down the Reed-Daley-Obama-McConnell team.)

For Republicans, a principled attack on Obamacare now will be more important than ever. They must explain why there can be no fiscal reform unless they "repeal and replace" Obamacare. They must emphasize the unintended consequences that will flow from Obamacare. And they must present their own plan. All that sounds like Paul Ryan will be in high demand.

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