Obama’s Budget Is Déjà Vu All Over Again

Obama already offered these concessions, so why does he think he’ll get credit for them this time?

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There's no time like the start of baseball season to deploy Yogi-isms. For example, reading the reports of Obama's forthcoming budget brought to mind the old aphorism that "it's deja vu all over again." Leading with a compromise is so 2009. And so is the GOP reaction: Pocket the concessions as a starting point and demand more. And while the White House thinking in running its old, failed messaging play is an appeal to the sensible center, what makes anyone think it will work any better this time?

We've been down this path before. At the start of his presidency Obama offered things like tax cuts in the stimulus package on the theory that they might spur GOP cooperation. We all remember how that went. After the election, during the fiscal cliff negotiations, it looked like Obama had learned his lesson.

But Obama's budget will reportedly include "chained CPI" for Social Security, which would alter the way benefits are calculated, as well as cuts to Medicare. These would be incorporated proposals, not simply things he would be open to doing in exchange for GOP concessions on revenue. Democrats and progressives are not wild about these changes, especially the idea of chained CPI, so why is he going to propose them?

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

According to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent:

The idea is to demonstrate once again that one party is willing to compromise to replace the sequester and reduce the deficit, and other isn't.

...

Indeed, as Jonathan Chait notes, commentators who tend to blame both sides evenly or even fault Obama for failing to "lead" Republicans out of their intransigence are taking notice of this new offer and seeing it as a genuine effort to compromise. One hopes there will be more commentary like this, and as the sequester kicks in, such Beltway chatter could seep into local news coverage around the country and start conveying clearly to voters that Republicans are to blame for whatever sequester pain they're feeling.

[See a collection of political cartoons on sequestration and the fiscal cliff.]

Chait cites people like Ron Fournier and Joe Scarborough and other members of the double-pox caucus – pundits who insist on casting a pox on both houses despite evidence that only one party is being unreasonably recalcitrant – who are making nice preliminary noises about Obama's budget.

But, he goes on to add, the notion that the double-pox caucus, or BipartisanThinkers as he calls them, will stop just blaming both sides is "an extremely forlorn hope":

More likely, the BipartisanThinkers will eventually redefine Obama's compromise position as Big Government liberalism and the center as the halfway point between that and Paul Ryan's plan to kill and eat the poor.

Why is that? Because Obama's new budget proposals aren't actually new. He has offered these things in public and in negotiations previously. Republicans have typically had one of two reactions. The first is ignorance – recall Ezra Klein's recounting a briefing with a senior Republican member of Congress who said that Obama's being open to chained CPI would be a gamechanger, not realizing that the offer was already on the White House website, "literally in bold print" as Klein noted.

Republicans who are aware of the offers have either then dismissed them as unserious or, as House Speaker John Boehner did today, attempted to bank them. As my colleague Pat Garofalo noted earlier this afternoon, this is the problem with pre-negotiating: The GOP might take concessions, buffet style.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

And what of the commentariat? Does anyone really think that even double-poxers who are now making happy noises about Obama's budget won't eventually forget their words? If the whole notion of BipartisanThink is detached from reality, why does anyone think they'll start paying attention to reality now?

Prediction: A month from now, when Washington remains mired in the same acrid gridlock, even commentators who currently praise Obama's budget as "serious" will apportion equal parts disgust to Republicans for being unreasonable and to Obama for failing to exercise the sort of presidential leadership that will induce the GOP to accept his reasonable compromises.

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