Obama and Simpson-Bowles: Don’t Panic. Yet.

The Washington Post today says that Obama’s “deficit reduction” speech will do so by “promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission.”  The Shrill One rightfully eviscerates this idea.  But let’s not panic.  Yet.

Krugman says that the President will “more or less endorse” Simpson-Bowles.  But that’s not what the article says; in fact, it’s not quite clear what the article is saying.  One of its alleged reporters is Peter Wallsten, formerly of the Los Angeles Times and co-author of possibly the worst article in the entire 2008 Presidential news cycle, which argued that basically Obama and McCain agreed on all the major issues.  He seems committed to High Broderism, even after the death of The Master.

The article is lazy in general, arguing, for example:

Independents abandoned the party last year as concern grew about government deficits and spending. But Obama also must worry about his liberal base, which views protecting entitlement programs central to Democratic Party orthodoxy.

There is actually no evidence for the first assertion; it is essentially recycled Beltway orthodoxy.  What happened last year was a supercharged Republican base.  And Social Security and Medicare are not “central to Democratic Party orthodoxy”: they are fabulously successful and fabulously popular programs among the entire US population. 

I have no confidence that Obama won’t sell Democratic Party principles down the river; Congressional Democrats heard about his plans for the speech from David Plouffe on the Sunday shows.  Trinagulation is alive and well at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But it’s going to take more than this article to persuade me that it is happening here.  Ezra Klein says that the White House tells him that it is not endorsing Simpson-Bowles, and that “this will make sense tomorrow.”  We’ll see.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

16 thoughts on “Obama and Simpson-Bowles: Don’t Panic. Yet.”

  1. OK. I won’t panic. Yet.

    But we all know what he needs to do:

    Continue to push for reductions in the growth of health care costs. Note that, despite their alleged “seriousness” about deficits, Republicans generally oppose common-sense measures in ACA.

    Explain that the defense budget is not sacrosanct.

    Make the point that manic tax-cutting can’t go on forever.

    Explain why Ryan’s proposals are ridiculous, and do not form a reasonable basis for discussion. I doubt he’ll do that, but he should. It’s easy enough to say, “Making drastic cuts to Medicare and valuable government programs like CDC, environmental protection, education, (Please don’t say “non-defense discretionary spending.” Be specific.) and others, and using the savings to give the wealthy huge tax cuts, is an absurd policy. Counting on wildly unrealistic growth projections is irresponsible government.

  2. Come now. Ryan’s lunatic “plan” just made it easier to use S-B. Our political economy is broken, unless you think politics in the US is for enacting policies to speed up wealth distribution to the rich. If you think that, our political economy is operating as best as can be hoped.

  3. Yeah, we’ll see. What is astonishing is that we have a Democratic president elected with broad-based support from the Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party and practically no one trusts him to do the right thing. About anything.

  4. KLG gets it right. And while Bernard Y’s proposals are reasonable and sensible, Obama could fall far short of that and still be a hero to me. If Obama comes up with a full-throated defense of Medicare – Medicare, for Chrissakes! – he will have exceeded my low expectations. How can we have the Republicans propose the abolition of Medicare and have a Democratic president not call them on it?

    You know what I want? I want Pelosi to primary Obama. No doubt that wouldn’t fit her career goals, and is impractical for a million other reasons, but still …

  5. I always had modest expectations for Obama, and yet I’ve been consistently disappointed. Beyond the Affordable Care Act, can anyone name a situation where Obama even met mimimal expectations?

  6. Oliver Wendell Holmes said of Roosevelt: “Second class intellect, but a first class temperament.” Turn it around and you have Obama: first class intellect, second class temperament.

  7. Obama’s problem is not a second class temperament that causes him to negotiate poorly. It’s that he’s not on our side. He’s still torturing Bradley Manning, for God’s sake. He wanted to give away the public option; he wanted to continue Bush’s tax cuts for the rich. It’s foolish to continue to expect anything decent from him.

  8. KLG, I don’t think it is ‘trust’ per se, rather that many Dems were convinced he’d implement a Dem or Progressive agenda and they are wondering why he’s not. The Financial FUBAR should have clued them in.

  9. Henry,

    Obama’s problem is not a second class temperament that causes him to negotiate poorly. It’s that he’s not on our side.

    I disagree. I think he is on “our side.” I just think he is in over his head. He seems completely unable to go on offense.

  10. @Dan: I fell for it, hook, line, and sinker, too. I never expected Michael Harrington, but I did expect a Democrat. Obama lied repeatedly, pure and simple, during the campaign. As for me, when he actually called those two men he *knows*, Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein, savvy businessmen I gave up on him right then and there. To reprise Bernard’s comment, talk about being in over his head? That proved that he is hopelessly in over his head. Period. But as Professor Zasloff says, we’ll see.

    Anyway, from Lance Mannion:

    Democrats, particularly the one in the White House, need to get it through their heads that when you go to Republicans offering to compromise they don’t see reasonable and well-meaning adults with whom they can deal fairly and honestly and whom they are therefore obliged to meet halfway.

    They see the same thing a cat sees when it looks at a wounded bird.

  11. Like most serious people I’m excited for tomorrow…
    Because Obama’s going bipartisan again…
    So much so, I’m going to pull on my “Win The Future” ball cap…
    And for good bipartisan luck, I’ll strap a “Path to Prosperity” propeller to its crown.

    America and its wealth, onwards and upwards!

  12. Obama did the same thing when he endorsed the public option. Instead of starting with “Medicare for all” or single-payer, he started with what should have been the compromise. We didn’t get it. We probably won’t get Simpson-Bowles either, but something even worse.

  13. @Bernard Yomtov
    I think he is on “our side.” I just think he is in over his head. He seems completely unable to go on offense.

    Textbook schizophrenic (or for the non-psychiatricly inclined, a “Clockworld Orange”personality)….two years in, and virtually all colleagues and followers of the head of state of this economic and military superpower, and no one knows what he stands for, what his core values are, what his vision is, and where he’s taking us.
    Two years in, and having broken virtually every campaign promise, having betrayed core constituencies, having displayed heart stopping malpractice, and having acted out publicly, and on the world stage, a humiliating, masochistic, unrequited love advance toward a savage, sadistic, possibly insane, probably sociopathic, and certainly dysfunctional political junta, and yet he remains the odds on favorite to succeed himself to another term.
    “…unable to go on offense(?)”
    Not when the opponent is Hillary Clinton…..or Alice Palmer…..or incontinent seniors.

  14. What giatslor said. The Democrats (Obama in particular) failed negotiating 101. You do not start out with a reasonable compromise proposal. That’s the endgame. You start by asking for your dream (or nearly) and you negotiate. The GOP understands this. The Ryan proposal is their dream. The Dems will start out with SB and end up with something inbetween SB and Ryan. The media will say “hmm, well, it’s a center-right country…” and that’ll be that.

  15. “There is actually no evidence for the first assertion; it is essentially recycled Beltway orthodoxy. What happened last year was a supercharged Republican base.”

    I don’t know about that, hasn’t some of the polling shown it to be at least as much a matter of Democrats losing the independent vote?

  16. Glenn Greenwald at salon.com agrees with me (see my comment above) that Obama is not a poor negotiator, but is getting what he wants. However, whereas I implied that Obama wants what the Republicans want as a matter of conviction, Greenwald says that Obama has no convictions and that Obama wants what the Republicans want because it will help him get re-elected, given that the Democrats will not desert him no matter what he does.


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