The Washington Post

Moderately encouraging signs?

A bunch of people today have been proceeding, with dismay, from the assumption — reported in various places — that the President’s deficit reduction speech tomorrow will embrace the Simpson-Bowles approach. But there are increasing signs that this may not be the case, and that Obama will lay out a vision uniquely his own that could — conceivably — be better than expected for liberals.

At the White House press briefing today, spokesman Jay Carney hinted that all the reporting out there today is wrong, and insisted Obama’s vision would not be based solely on any particular plan.

“He has said very clearly that he supports the efforts of the so-called Gang of Six and others who are addressing these challenges in a very serious way,”Carney said. “That’s a healthy, good thing, and it’s reflective of the environment that was created by the president’s fiscal commission after it reported last year...He will provide his vision tomorrow.”

I could be wrong, but that sounds to me like the White House actively doesn’t want Obama’s eventual vision to be seen as anything but his own, despite commentary to the contrary. Obama intended the fiscal commission to start a conversation, not set his final blueprint for him. “It will be his,” Carney said.

What’s more, other stories out there today are encouraging. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, reports that Obama tomorrow will draw a sharp contrast with the GOP by insisting on tax hikes for the rich. Crucially, the story even suggests the model for what Obama will do is the 2005 fight over Social Security, in which Dems drew a hard line on entitlements and refused to budge.

Obviously that is a very optimistic read on what will happen. But I can say that the White House has indicated to me that Simpson-Bowles will not be the primary foundation for Obama’s speech. Ezra Klein was told the same.

On another front, a bunch of people — myself included — jumped on a Wall Street Journal report this morning claiming that the White House is open to a deal on the debt ceiling. But as Steve Benen aptly notes, the report was very thinly sourced, if at all, and was a bad basis for a freak-out.

Indeed, in the briefing, Carney seemed to deny the report, reiterating that the White House doesn’t want any link between the debt ceiling vote and the GOP’s demand for deeper spending cuts. “We don’t believe that there should be a link between efforts to address our long term deficit problem and the imperative of raising the debt ceiling,” Carney said.

In other words, we don’t know what Obama has in mind. As The Post reports today, “letting others take the lead on complex problems has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency.” But it’s also a hallmark of the Obama presidency for him to step in just when such chatter is at its peak and articulate a vision that, by his lights, represents the best of what others contributed to the debate while he waited in the wings. So we'll see.

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.


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