Ryan’s Gimme

April 11, 2011 12:57 p.m.

TPM Reader JL looks at the outlook from Wednesday …

Thanks for the link to the Waldman piece. I couldn’t agree more.

Sometimes something is so obvious that it’s hard to see. So it is with Ryan’s budget proposal. The idea of abolishing Medicare is so absurd that one is tempted to dismiss it without absorbing the implications. For all of the griping about the lousy deal Obama negotiated on the 2011 budget, the shortcomings of Friday night’s deal will seem trifling if Obama uses it to gain the upper hand in the national debate over the deficit/debt. And, there is little doubt in my mind that Ryan has given Obama free rein to grab the upper hand.

Obama can propose anything he wants within reason and if it cuts debt by roughly the same amount that Ryan does, he wins the debate. My favorite approach would be repealing tax cuts for the wealthy, go after more taxes from corporations, moderation in defense spending, and get very aggressive on health care cost control (I’d love to see him bring the public option back). But whatever set of policies he wants to propose, as long as it looks like a clear alternative to Ryan and the CBO scores it in the Ryan ballpark, Obama wins the debate. First because the recent budget deal cements the perception of Obama as the most reasonable man in Washington and one who understands the importance of dealing with the deficits/debt. And, second because anything that is seen as the alternative to abolishing Medicare will sound great.

Un until now, there is only one decision Obama faced that I thought was make or break. That was the decision on whether to fight for healthcare reform in the weeks/months following Scott Brown’s early 2010 win in the Massachusetts special election. I thought and still think that if Obama had not pushed forward on using reconciliation to pass HCR, it would have been a disaster for him and for the Democratic Party. I still believe that. In retrospect I don’t think it would have hurt that much in the 2010 congressional elections (how much worse could it have been?), but it would have been fatal to his presidency. He would have looked weak and incompetent and would never have been able to shake that image. Make or break moments are much rarer than we tend to think, but I think Wednesday’s speech is another one. Less in terms of potential downside, and more in terms of the potential upside of taking control of the debate over debt and deficits. And since that debate will dominate domestic politics for the next several years (or more), those are pretty big stakes.

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