The White House’s tactical victory

With House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) no longer willing or able to pursue his own debt-reduction goals, it’s worth pausing to appreciate how the politics have played out in the White House’s favor. Jay Newton-Small’s take sounds right to me.

[T]he collapse of the grand bargain leaves President Obama in a more favorable political position. If both parties agree to cut $2 trillion from the budget with minor tax increases, he’ll notch a bipartisan accomplishment. But he can also say he tried something more ambitious in putting cuts to Social Security and Medicare on the table without facing the political fallout of actually slashing those programs.

[Obama] went big and congressional Republicans — not to mention the noticeably silent 2012 Republican presidential candidates — didn’t. It will be Republicans who will have to justify bowing to the extreme wing of their party and walking away from a deal that included some ten times more spending cuts than revenue increases.

All things being equal, this certainly looks like a tactical win for the White House, at least at this point. From the perspective of the political establishment, the president was willing to do something ambitious, even risking the ire of his party’s base. Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, have now said they don’t want a massive debt-reduction package if it means asking the rich to sacrifice even a little.

Put it this way: as of this morning, which side of the political divide appears more concerned with fiscal responsibility*? The president with the plan to cut the debt by $4 trillion or the House majority that cares most about tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, none of which are paid for?

Did President Obama deliberately present GOP leaders with an ambitious solution, knowing they’d blink and he’d end up looking better in the end? We may never know, but if Boehner isn’t asking himself that question this morning, he’s not paying close enough attention.

* I realize this gets repetitious, but I feel compelled to point out that prioritizing fiscal responsibility is a mistake under the current circumstances. With weak growth and rising unemployment, officials should be borrowing more, investing more, generating demand and creating jobs. Within the context of a debate about fiscal issues, I think the White House has won a tactical victory, but in the larger context, what I want to see is policymakers forget fiscal issues and focus on the economy.