POTUS speech this week on long-term deficit reduction

POTUS SPEECH THIS WEEK ON LONG-TERM DEFICIT REDUCTION…. This has the potential to go badly.

President Obama will deliver a major speech this week about plans to reduce federal budget deficits and long-term debt, senior adviser David Plouffe said this morning.

“He’s going to lay out his approach very clearly,” Plouffe said on CNN’s State of the Union, one of a string of Sunday talk show appearances he made.

Obama will address cuts to defense and domestic spending, as well as what to do with the growing entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, Plouffe said. He will talk about “dollar amounts” over “a period of years.”

“We have got to make sure that we are taking a balanced approach to this,” Plouffe said.

The speech will apparently be delivered on Wednesday, though the time and venue haven’t been announced.

The benefit of an address like this, at least in theory, is to frame the debate in a responsible way. Republicans want to tackle debt reduction by eliminating Medicare, gutting Medicaid, slashing taxes for the wealthy (again), and struggling to actually reduce the debt much anyway. Democrats, the argument will go, have a more sensible approach that’s more likely to gain public favor and acceptance. Don’t go with that radical, reckless idea, the president is likely to say, go with my more prudent approach.

But then there’s the flip side. Once Democrats commit to systematic debt reduction as policymakers’ principal goal — as opposed to, say, economic growth — it sets the terms of the debate. The unyielding dynamic locks everyone into answering the same question: how do we tackle the deficit and the debt?

That’s the question Republicans (and much of the media) want as the central focus, but there are more pertinent and important questions that should be prioritized, such as, “How about a jobs plan to reduce unemployment?” Or maybe, “How will taking money out of the economy and reducing public investment lead to more growth?”

What’s more, it also sets baselines for a “compromise.” If Obama presents a credible vision for long-term debt reduction this week, we’ll have one pillar, which will serve as a counterweight to Paul Ryan’s radical House budget plan presented a few days ago. But a moderate counterweight may not be wise — if recent history is any guide, negotiations will produce a deal that’s somewhere between them.

In this case, that’d be a disaster. Even half-way to Ryan’s roadmap would destroy much of the modern American social compact, and prove devastating to the middle class.

Assuming that congressional Republicans are interested in a sincere, good-faith discussion about fiscal responsibility is folly. If this week’s presidential speech simply presents a sensible answer to a dubious question, without regard for the larger political dynamic, the White House will be making a serious mistake.