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What Are the Areas of Agreement Between President Obama and the Fiscal Commission?

In his press conference just now, President Obama just said that the fiscal commission has not been shelved, despite the lack of pickup of its ideas in his budget. He said that the fact that it got 11 votes – three less than it needed to move on to Congress – showed it served as a framework for the discussion. He said that there was a lot in that fiscal commission report he agreed with, and some he didn’t agree with “as a matter of principle.” And he got annoyed at the press corps for wanting everything to happen tomorrow rather than letting it play out.

Sadly, we didn’t hear a follow-up on that question, asking what, in particular, he disagreed with as a matter of principle. Because I’d really like to know, and I’m not sure it matches with the things I’d disagree with as a matter of principle. For instance, he countered the fact that there was a broad consensus for the fiscal commission report by saying that Paul Ryan, chair of the House Budget Committee, didn’t vote for it. “So I’d have to have a conversation with him” about it, Obama said. So, do his concerns match with Paul Ryan’s? Or would he have to sacrifice what he disagreed with as a matter of principle, to get Ryan on board?

It would be great to get a little more information here. Does he agree with the fiscal commission that military spending should be seen as the same as non-security spending, with the same percentage of cuts? That’s not really in the budget. Does he agree with the fiscal commission that there need to be one trillion dollars saved by eliminating tax expenditures? Because the budget looks at corporate tax reform – a roadmap for a broader tax reform – as budget-neutral, removing expenditures but also lowering the rates. Does he agree on the cuts to Social Security and raising the retirement age? Because the principles listed in the budget on Social Security don’t necessarily conflict with that.

Obama rightly said in the presser that Social Security is not a main driver of the deficit or federal spending (it actually has no bearing on the deficit at all), and that “I’m confident that we can accomplish that through modest adjustments” which avoid “slashing” benefits. He said that Medicare and Medicaid are huge problems, because the cost of health care are rising even as the country gets older, and so it’s more of a health care spending problem than a Medicare and Medicaid problem. It’s true that the government is an insurance company protected by a large standing army. But those are really abstract terms. So I think I’ll follow up on this virtually every time I get a chance: what are the areas of agreement between the President and the fiscal commission? What about the areas he disagrees with on principle?

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David Dayen

David Dayen