Tough economic times make for tough political times for any president, and that’s increasingly true for President Obama.
The budget he’ll formally propose this coming week is getting hammered left and right. That may indicate a willingness to compromise on his part in hopes of striking a bipartisan, middle ground deal with congressional Republicans. But it also illustrates the limits on his aspirations. (See higher taxes on the wealthy or reigning in some entitlement programs, including Social Security – the “third rail” of politics.)
In his weekly address Saturday, Obama called the budget he’ll unveil Wednesday “a fiscally-responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth.”
“My budget will reduce our deficits not with aimless, reckless spending cuts that hurt students and seniors and middle-class families – but through the balanced approach that the American people prefer, and the investments that a growing economy demands,” he said, "investments" meaning more spending on some programs.
“We’ll make the tough reforms required to strengthen Medicare for the future, without undermining the rock-solid guarantee at its core," Obama said. "And we’ll enact commonsense tax reform that includes closing wasteful tax loopholes for the wealthy and well-connected."
Republicans in Congress more or less called Obama’s plan – especially its tax elements – DOA (dead on arrival).
In a statement, House Speaker John Boehner complained that Obama was holding “modest” entitlement savings “hostage for more tax hikes.”
From the left, those “modest” entitlement savings – including changing the way cost-of-living increases are calculated for those on Social Security – provoked outrage and threats to challenge Democratic lawmakers who might go along with Obama.
"Cutting benefits now, when people are already struggling to make ends meet, will mean unnecessary hardship for millions of people," Reps. Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva, the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, wrote in a joint statement. "It is unpopular, unwise and unworkable."
"Let's be clear: President Obama, when it comes to cutting Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare benefits, over 200,000 progressive members of your own party don't ‘have your back’ and we are prepared to fight you every step of the way," said Jim Dean, chairman of Democracy for America, a Vermont-based political action committee.
Meanwhile, one senior Republican on Capitol Hill said the president's budget proposal "does little or nothing to bring both parties closer to a fiscal agreement" because, in the eyes of Republicans, it's essentially the same offer that was rejected by Speaker Boehner during negotiations with the president last December,” ABC News reports.
Obama acknowledges that what he’s putting forward amounts to “the compromise I offered the Speaker of the House at the end of last year.” The question is: Will time and the results of the 2012 elections – not great news for the GOP – have made such a “compromise” more palatable to Republicans, whose main political concerns may be the 2014 and 2016 elections?
Obama’s job isn’t made any easier by the disappointing jobs and unemployment reports out Friday.
“We’ve got more work to do to get the economy growing faster, so that everybody who wants a job can find one,” he acknowledged in his Saturday address. “And that means we need fewer self-inflicted wounds from Washington, like the across-the-board spending cuts that are already hurting many communities – cuts that economists predict will cost our economy hundreds of thousands of jobs this year.”
In the GOP address Saturday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said "the ideas on how to fix the federal government are now percolating in the states, 30 of which are led by Republican governors.”
"You see, you don't change America by changing Washington,” he said. “You change America by changing the states. And that's exactly what Republican governors are doing across the country, taking a different approach to grow their states' economies and fix their governments with ideas that work.”
In an online editorial Saturday, the Kansas City Star was quick to label some of what Brownback said about his own record as “exaggerated or misleading.”
Among the editorial’s points:
“Kansas, like most states, was in deep trouble when Brownback took office in 2011. What lifted Kansas out of its hole was a one-cent sales tax that Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson signed into law and which took effect in July 2010. Brownback has benefited from that tax increase his entire term. He also is lobbying the Legislature to keep it in place, even though part of it is supposed to expire this July….”
“Brownback plays games with education funding, counting factors like bond debt, capital improvement funds and mandatory increases in teachers’ retirement contributions in the total. But he cut more than $100 million from basic elementary and secondary school funding in 2011, and reduced the amount of state aid allotted per pupil further last year. And thanks to the overdose on income tax cuts, funds for schools, universities and corrections are all on the chopping block this year.”