Now that President Obama has released his budget with its concessions to Republicans, revenue increases, infrastructure and education investments I have a very strong sense of deja vu. Like I’ve seen this movie before.
Oh yeah, the American Jobs Act of 2011! While it never really went anywhere, it gave Obama a handy hammer with which to knock congressional Republicans as putting politics ahead of country and holding back the economic recovery. By including revenue and chained CPI in his budget, the president has the hammer in hand again.
Chained CPI is a proposed calculation to limit the rate of increase in Social Security benefits, and it is loved on the right and reviled on the left. So, as a show of good faith, Obama proposed it as part of a fiscal-cliff deal with Speaker John Boehner, who turned up his nose at it in favor of a Plan B for which he couldn’t even rustle up Republican votes. Now that it’s back as part of the White House budget, many Democrats fret that chained CPI will be the beginning of many more concessions. They needn’t worry.
“Obama and his people apparently know that this whole thing is smoke and mirrors … ,” noted Michael Tomasky on the Daily Beast. “It really doesn’t much matter what Obama proposes because as long as it includes revenues, which it always will, nothing is going to happen.” Adding to the smoke and mirrors is the fact that the president doesn’t even like chained CPI. “[A]dministration officials insisted yesterday that Obama does not view Chained CPI as good policy,” Greg Sargent wrote, describing a call in which Obama officials outlined the president’s budget.
Why propose it, then? As Sargent pointed out, “This is about demonstrating the White House’s willingness to reach a compromise in which both sides make concessions.” It is also about clarifying the debate, as the presumption is “Republicans won’t accept this offer — even though Mitch McConnell and John Boehner themselves previously asked for the concessions in it.”
Which brings me back to the American Jobs Act. When Obama proposed it during a joint session of Congress on Sept. 8, 2011, he knew the Republicans wouldn’t play ball. One, because it arrived on the eve of a presidential election. “Obama is on the ropes,” a senior House aide told Politico a couple of days after the speech. “[W]hy do we appear ready to hand him a win?” Two, because Obama was the one making the proposal, even though the legislation adopted a number of ideas and programs that once garnered bipartisan support.
When the bill stalled, the president did what he could without congressional approval. And through it all, he went around the country initially to push for the measure’s passage and then to hammer Republicans for putting their political considerations ahead of out-of-work Americans. I can see the same thing happening with the budget.
Republicans better believe Obama when he says that chained CPI happens only as part of a balanced approach. Boehner’s constant harangue that “the president already got his revenues” as part of the fiscal-cliff deal is going nowhere. That means if the GOP doesn’t want its already dismal standing in the country to dim any further it is going to have to put governing ahead of politics. Otherwise, it better get used to getting hammered by the president for its recalcitrance and the American people for its inaction.
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