Deficit reduction: Why it's smart for Obama to jump in late
President Obama will lay out his 'vision' for deficit reduction Wednesday, a week after the GOP released a 2012 budget proposing big cuts. He is well positioned to occupy the middle ground.
President Obama’s speech Wednesday laying out a plan for deficit reduction answers a long-burning question: When will the president join the debate on how to avoid a national fiscal train wreck?Skip to next paragraph
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But don’t necessarily expect to hear specifics on deficit reduction. Indeed, White House officials have said that he will lay out a “vision” but won’t go into a lot of detail. Still, Mr. Obama will at least create the appearance that he has joined the debate, following the release last December of his bipartisan fiscal commission’s plan and then more recently, the GOP budget proposal for fiscal 2012 by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Obama’s own 2012 budget, released in February, skirted the issue of unsustainable entitlement spending – foremost, on Medicare and Medicaid – and led to a drumbeat of questions over when the president would take up the issue. But even if Obama’s numbers on the two big medical entitlements are “to be determined,” he now has plenty to talk about: Chairman Ryan’s plan, which quietly passed his committee last week.
“It was smart for him to wait, because now he can use the Ryan plan as a benchmark,” says John Kenneth White, a political scientist at Catholic University in Washington. “He can say, ‘We’re not turning Medicare into a voucher system.’ ”
Ryan has said his plan is not a voucher system, though critics disagree. The Ryan budget called for nearly $6 trillion in deficit reduction over the next 10 years, in part by ending Medicare as an entitlement and providing “premium support” for seniors in the private insurance market. But critics say it acts more as a voucher plan because the government's level of "premium support" does not keep up with rising health-care costs.
Medicaid, the federal health-care system for low-income people, would become a block-grant program to the states, limiting the federal government’s outlay.
Bill Clinton's playbook
“What’s striking to me is how reminiscent this is of the 1990s,” says a veteran congressional Democratic aide. “The political landscape changed for President Clinton, and he then played on Republican turf. What he’s trying to do is accommodate the tide that swept over Washington in last year’s election.”
Just as that worked for Clinton politically, so too can it work for Obama. “He has extraordinary leeway with the Democratic base, because he’s not getting primaried,” says the aide.