Obama’s Childish Budget Gambit

Obama NopeThe lady doth protest too much, methinks. Or rather the Obama administration, which is out this morning with their new entitlement cutting budget. Greg Sargent reported this morning, “The administration officials insisted yesterday that Obama does not view Chained CPI as good policy.” The thing is, I read a lot, and the only person saying that the Obama administration wants Chained-CPI and other entitlement cuts is me. I don’t know, maybe Digby is making the same point. But no one that the administration pays attention to is making that argument. Thus: they doth protest too much![1]

But it gets worse. Sargent also wrote, “Senior administration officials who briefed a number of us late yesterday repeatedly insisted that the White House will not move any further in the GOP’s direction if Republicans try to pocket the entitlement cuts while refusing to make any concessions.” I guess that is kind of reassuring, but he adds, “The officials say that without new revenues, no deal is possible.” That makes it sound like this budget is a starting position. It looks like they are offering an equal amount of spending cuts to revenue increases. But that second sentence (and the last part of the first) makes it sound like, “As long as we get something, it is okay.”

Ezra Klein had much the same thing to say this morning. He noted that there are two outcomes of this budget gambit: it leads to a deal on the Sequester or it does not. Sadly, our best hope is that it does not. The deal the president is offering might not be that bad as it stands, given that the Sequester is really bad for the economy and a lot of poor people. But it simply doesn’t work to offer up a proposal and say, “I’m meeting you half way; this is as far as I’ll go.” The proposal itself shows that the president is way more interested in a deal than the Republicans. If it does lead to a deal, the White House would have to give on the revenues to allow the Republicans to save face.

The other side of the deal is just ridiculous. Does Obama really think he can move public opinion on this issue? And if he did, would it matter? Universal background checks on gun purchases have a 90% approval rating and yet almost no Republican is for them. The word is that Obama wants to convince the Very Serious Pundits that he is reasonable and the Republicans aren’t. First, if they aren’t convinced by now, they never will be. Second, this is silly. It smacks of a child wanting to get the approval of a distracted parent. Bqhatevwr!

Paul Krugman put it much in this way, calling those the president is courting, Imaginary Grownups. He quite rightly notes that Very Serious Centrists are not grownups, “Calls for centrism and bipartisanship aren’t actual demands for specific policies—they’re an act, a posture these people take to make themselves seem noble and superior.”

So here we go. Best case scenario: Obama is trying to appeal to the supposed grownups on the Washington Post editorial page. Worse case scenario (and what I believe): Obama himself likes these policies; they make him feel “noble and superior.”


[1] In Hamlet, this phrase is not used the way we use it today. The word “protest” is more along the lines of “proclaim.” In Hamlet’s little play designed to catch Claudius (which is extremely lame, although it works in the play), the king asks the queen to stay true to him after his death. She does so. Hamlet asks his mother what she thinks and she responds, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” This is a good example of how our shared knowledge of Shakespeare improves him. This is not a memorable line at all as intended. But as reworked, it is a clever bit of psychologizing.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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