Will He Or Won’t He?

April 10, 2011 7:08 p.m.

I’d spent part of the weekend writing a post on why the White House has to decide now that it won’t get into any more policy debates with hostage takers — a point Matt Yglesias explains here. I hope to return to it. But first a different point: The White House is signaling that it will come off Friday’s budget deal with a new and more aggressive plan to cut the deficit and ‘reform’ Medicare and Medicaid. Top White House advisor David Plouffe notes that the president’s plan will use a “scalpel and not a machete.”

Frankly, that strikes me as the sort of over-clever language political handlers come up with when they’re in the midst of dealing themselves a losing political hand.

The political opposition to Medicare and Social Security is betting on the politics of obfuscation. It took Democrats a couple days after Rep. Ryan (R-WI) released his budget plan before they they got their wits about them enough to mention that Ryan’s plan actually abolished Medicare outright. You’d think with a program as popular as Medicare, one their party is deeply associated with, they’d be quicker on their feet. The fact that they weren’t is telling. And it should worry anyone who opposes doing away with this program.

As quickly as possible, the president needs to find a pivot and a political and policy footing (actually, they’re one and the same) from which he can go on the offensive. It’s as simple as that. Otherwise his posture and role in the unfolding debate is rearguard and reactive, energizing his enemies and demoralizing his supporters.

And what a pity since that pivot and footing are staring him in the face.

Congressional Republicans are using fear of the national debt as an opportunity to push through a series of radical and far-reaching policy changes that have nothing to do with addressing the national debt. Run that through your mind a few times. It’s the key understanding everything we’re going to see this year. If nothing else you know the Ryan plan isn’t focused on reducing the national debt since it actually includes a big new tax cut — a cut in revenues. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is the equivalent at the federal level of what his ally Gov. Walker (R) did in Wisconsin — use the short-term budgetary shortfall as an excuse to end collective bargaining rights. Similarly, Ryan’s plan does nothing to rein in medical costs for seniors or even reduce the benefit levels of Medicare. It simply abolishes it outright.

As long as the president just focuses on dollars, he loses. He also helps misinform the public about what’s actually happening. He deprives his supporters and the public at large of any real understanding of what if anything he and congressional Republicans even disagree about other than their wanting to cut a ton of spending on various programs and his wanting to cut 2/3 a ton of spending on various programs.

You’ll know he’s serious when he says he won’t let Republicans abolish Medicare.

Unless, of course, he will. Which would sure be weird.

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