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White House Scrambling, Undermining Dem Strategies in Budget Debate

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

So, yesterday, Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democratic leadership hit on this idea to broaden the conversation on the 2011 budget to include the out years, and to look at more than just the discretionary budget, including taxes, subsidies and tax expenditures. This was a decent rhetorical gambit to expose Republicans as total frauds on the deficit.

So, naturally, the White House shut it down.

White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to a proposal put forth by some Senate Democrats to broaden negotiations to consider other areas than domestic discretionary spending. Carney said that President Obama wants to deal with broader issues, but that lawmakers must focus on passing a seven-month funding bill.

“We are in a situation, as we were last week, where the government shuts down on March 18,” Carney told reporters at his daily press briefing. “We need to resolve the issue on the table, which is funding for fiscal year 2011. So we’re not waiting for anything to get to those talks.”

It’s that kind of crackerjack political instinct that led to a 63-seat loss in the House last year.

So the White House’s view is to deal with the issue at hand by gradually paying a ransom to the opposition, leaving them to only ask for more. And this cripples any maneuvering by allies, as even Schumer acknowledged yesterday that “his party will have to move in the GOP’s direction.” Part of that is because so many Democrats abandoned the Democratic plan yesterday in the Senate, free vote though it was, because they’re in the grip of the new austerity. But another part of it is the extreme lack of leadership from the party leader in the White House, to the point of actively undermining the negotiation tactics. The Republicans can sit back, yell “Where’s the President,” and drag this out, one drip at a time.

One part of the above-linked story is interesting, however:

Obama’s team — which had anticipated a messy internal GOP fight between mainstream Republicans and tea party faithful — now worry that the contours of a winning GOP strategy on the budget is coming into focus: a series of small deals, with escalating cuts that force the president to defend his pet social and development programs at a time when he had hoped to position himself as a fiscal hawk.

It also remains wary of any deal that involves major changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — and administration officials say that a bipartisan group of six senators working on entitlement reform will not have a seat in negotiating sessions.

That’s a pretty bold statement taking entitlements off the table. The whole thing seems in flux to me. I don’t know the President’s strategy here, and I don’t think he knows it either. Republicans, meanwhile, have hit on something they think will work.

CommunityThe Bullpen

White House Scrambling, Undermining Dem Strategies in Budget Debate

So yesterday, Chuck Schumer and the Senate Democratic leadership hit on this idea to broaden the conversation on the 2011 budget to include the out years, and to look at more than just the discretionary budget, including taxes, subsidies and tax expenditures. This was a decent rhetorical gambit to expose Republicans as total frauds on the deficit.

So naturally, the White House shut it down.

White House press secretary Jay Carney responded to a proposal put forth by some Senate Democrats to broaden negotiations to consider other areas than domestic discretionary spending. Carney said that President Obama wants to deal with broader issues, but that lawmakers must focus on passing a seven-month funding bill.

“We are in a situation, as we were last week, where the government shuts down on March 18,” Carney told reporters at his daily press briefing. “We need to resolve the issue on the table, which is funding for fiscal year 2011. So we’re not waiting for anything to get to those talks.”

It’s that kind of crackerjack political instinct that led to a 63-seat loss in the House last year.

So the White House’s view is to deal with the issue at hand by gradually paying a ransom to the opposition, leaving them to only ask for more. And this cripples any maneuvering by allies, as even Schumer acknowledged yesterday that “his party will have to move in the GOP’s direction.” Part of that is because so many Democrats abandoned the Democratic plan yesterday in the Senate, free vote though it was, because they’re in the grip of the new austerity. But another part of it is the extreme lack of leadership from the party leader in the White House, to the point of actively undermining the negotiation tactics. The Republicans can sit back, yell “Where’s the President,” and drag this out, one drip at a time.

One part of the above-linked story is interesting, however:

Obama’s team — which had anticipated a messy internal GOP fight between mainstream Republicans and tea party faithful — now worry that the contours of a winning GOP strategy on the budget is coming into focus: a series of small deals, with escalating cuts that force the president to defend his pet social and development programs at a time when he had hoped to position himself as a fiscal hawk.

It also remains wary of any deal that involves major changes to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — and administration officials say that a bipartisan group of six senators working on entitlement reform will not have a seat in negotiating sessions.

That’s a pretty bold statement taking entitlements off the table. The whole thing seems in flux to me. I don’t know the President’s strategy here, and I don’t think he knows it either. Republicans, meanwhile, have hit on something they think will work.

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David Dayen

David Dayen