Go Big, Mr President

President Obama Delivers A Statement

Tomasky is highly skeptical that new negotations over the budget can result in any different outcome next time:

The position of the chaos caucus is going to be: Okay Obama, you give us entitlement cuts, and we’ll give you…uh, what? No revenues. They’re inflexible on that point. No programs (outside maybe of defense, and even that’s a maybe) funded at levels above sequestration. So actually, they’ll give nothing.

Beutler’s view:

[T]here’s a high likelihood that these negotiations will end the same way as all the others that preceded them did: no agreement. An agreement is only compatible with the GOP’s anti-tax absolutism if Democrats drop their demand for tax parity and agree to pay down sequestration with other spending cuts. Possible, but unlikely.

One way out of this would be for Obama to go big, to propose in these new talks a Bowles-Simpson-style deal in which major tax reform and entitlement cuts are exchanged for much higher revenues. If the GOP were a genuinely conservative party, actually interested in long-term government solvency and reform within our current system of government, they would jump at this. They could claim to have reduced tax rates, even if the net result were higher taxes. And the brutal fact is that, given simply our demographics, higher taxes are going to be necessary if we are to avoid gutting our commitments to the seniors of tomorrow. They could concede that and climb down from this impossibly long limb they have constructed for themselves.

I’ve long favored a Grand Bargain, but recognize its huge political liabilities without the leadership of both parties genuinely wanting to get there. But for Obama, it seems to me, re-stating such a possibility and embracing it more than he has ever done, is a win-win.

He may alienate Democrats – but after his cold-steel resistance to Tea Party blackmail, he has surely won some chips to his left. With independents and moderate Republicans, now reeling from the last month’s brinksmanship, it would signal centrist leadership that could bolster his political standing, even if the GOP turns him down. If his political standing improves, then the chances for a Democratic wave in 2014 increase.

But it means taking a real risk now. And this president has shown in his second term a much greater propensity to risk than in his first.

Think of the boldness of his response to Assad’s chemical weapons attack and agility in roping in Putin to deal with it (so far successfully). Think of his steadfast refusal to budge right up against the threat of default. He has earned new cred and could bolster it some more with a new, bold reach for the political center he can still represent. I believe it would be the most politically effective domestic policy agenda the president can plausibly move forward, if the GOP maintains its rigidity against immigration reform past the next Congressional elections. It would also help bring back the core coalition that gave him such a huge victory in 2008. It would mean the president has not given up on the long-term fiscal health of the country. And it is vital that no president gives up on that, especially one elected on the principle of hope as well as change.

Resignation to gridlock is perfectly rational. But changing that dynamic is never impossible. It’s what we elect presidents to do. And this one still could, if he swiftly exploits the opening this near-catastrophe has presented to him.

(Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement at the State Dining Room of the White House October 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Obama said the American people are completely fed up with Washington and called on cooperation to work things out. By Alex Wong/Getty Images.)