I don’t know if this is the kind of headline Barack Obama was wishing for when he laminated his first Hope poster, but he’s sure got the papers singing his tune:

Obama Grasping Centrist Banner in Debt Impasse

President Obama made no apparent headway on Monday in his attempt to forge a crisis-averting budget deal, but he put on full display his effort to position himself as a pragmatic centrist willing to confront both parties and address intractable problems.

At a news conference preceding the latest round of debt-reduction talks with Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, Mr. Obama said he would not accept a temporary agreement to kick the problem down the road a few weeks or months.

He said that he was willing to take the heat from his own party to move beyond entrenched ideological positions and that Republicans should do the same. And he continued to insist on “the biggest deal possible,” saying that now is the best opportunity for the nation to address its long-term fiscal challenges.

Post-partisan problem solver on display for you.

Of course, part of the post-partisan problem solver ethos is that you actually solve the problem, and there doesn’t seem to be any willingness to do that from the Congressional leadership. I’m sure Obama flashed the biggest smile in his repertoire and made a case they’d be proud to grade highly in any debating society, but if independent voters in Ohio swooned, the people who have the votes in Congress didn’t.

The Democratic House leader in charge of counting votes on legislation to raise the nation’s debt ceiling warned on Monday that he couldn’t guarantee a single vote from his party if revenues weren’t part of the deal. His counterpart on the Republican side echoed that prediction if revenues were part of the deal.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told attendees at a White House gathering that a Republican-pushed plan to slash more than $1.5 trillion in federal spending — along with reforms to the entitlement program — would likely have to pass with only GOP support […]

It was a rare show of firmness from a Democratic caucus that, at one point, insisted that a debt-ceiling bill should be clean of all legislative add-ons. But the show didn’t go unmatched. Before Monday’s meeting, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor tweeted that “there is no way the House will support a tax increase” as part of the debt reduction deal. At the meeting itself, he offered a deal that would cut $2 trillion over 10 years — more than half of which would come from discretionary spending; $200 billion in mandatory spending and hundreds of billions from entitlement programs. Taxes remained untouched.

Cantor’s proposal included $350 billion in Medicare cuts, including $53 billion from cuts to Medigap coverage, $50 billion from increased co-pays for nursing home and homecare, $38 billion from additional means testing (Medicare is already slightly means-tested) and $16 billion in higher co-pays for lab tests. So cost-shifting, for the most part, and maybe some cuts to providers. But the interesting part of this is that Cantor’s spokeswoman maintained that this reflected the discussions in the Biden talks, with numbers added to them. We knew that Medicare cuts were on the table in those talks; according to Cantor, this was the substance. The President reportedly called Cantor’s offer “disproportionate.”

“The president stressed… [that] he did not understand how he could go to the American people consistent with his values and say it was okay to have proposals that would ask moderate-income seniors to be bearing $500 or more of additional costs when you couldn’t, at the same time, ask that even the most well off Americans bear an extra five dollars in contribution to getting the deficit down,” said a Democratic official briefed on the exchange.

There was also this exchange:

Boehner: Entitlement cuts aren’t easy for us to vote for either. Our guys aren’t cheerleading about cutting entitlements.

Obama: Your guys already voted for them.

Boehner: Excuse us for trying to lead.

I’m sure that someone not named Richard Cohen or Joe Klein thinks that ending Medicare and giving people a coupon equals leading. I’m just not sure who.

For all the centrist rhetoric about moving past ideology and making a mark on history, the President isn’t moving anyone who matters. There are more talks scheduled for today. Anyone who’s watched the wonderful transparency of the Big Five process in California play out knows this rodeo pretty well. It’s just what the Founders intended, I’m sure; secret backroom talks with the lives of millions in the balance.

At least we have the most reasonable guy in the room on our side, right?

David Dayen

David Dayen