UYGUR: Today, President Obama took pains to distinguish his vision for America from the one put forth by Paul Ryan and the House Republicans. And in the process of drawing that distinction, the president also set himself apart from his possible 2012 contenders.
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OBAMA: To their credit, one vision has been presented and championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party‘s presidential candidates.
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UYGUR: Ah, the race is on. And that‘s smart, connecting them to Ryan‘s plans.
Now, after he connected them to that plan, the president proceeded to tell the country exactly what he thinks of that whole vision.
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OBAMA: This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. There‘s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don‘t think there‘s anything courageous about acting for sacrifice from those who can least can afford it and don‘t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That‘s not a vision of the America I know.
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UYGUR: Now do you see why I liked this speech? OK. That was some good stuff.
Of course, the GOP candidates jumped all over the speech. Mitt Romney accused the president of digging into his “liberal playbook.”
First of all, he‘s a Democratic president. Second of all, what have you got? You‘ve just got name-calling? No substance?
Oh, yes? You‘re a liberal!
Nice one, Mitt.
And Tim Pawlenty said the president‘s plan wasn‘t serious.
Were you listening to this speech? The president called for $4 trillion in cuts. How much more serious did he need to be?
So, now is the time to talk about who wins and who loses out of this big national debate. So let‘s do that right now with our guests, Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.” And also with us is Democratic strategist and syndicated columnist David Sirota. His latest book is “Back to Our Future.”
All right, Dana, let‘s start with you.
The president went on the attack a little bit, but then he said he‘s going to do the deficit commission. Or didn‘t say he was fully going to do it, but that he was using it as his guide.
First, is this smart politics? Has he done a good job of casting himself in the middle here, if you will?
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: I
think he has done a very good job here, because had he come out and say, look, I‘m going to give a big old hug to Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, and I‘m just going to give my blessing to their plan, you would not be having the same show that you‘re having tonight. You‘d be pretty angry about this.
I think what he did is he said all the right words. And let‘s face it, Paul Ryan gave him a real gift. This was a gimme. It was easy for the president to get up there and be the anti-Ryan, and thereby claiming the center, as well as keeping his base happy. I suspect when you get right down to the details, it‘s not going to be so pretty.
UYGUR: Well, you see, that‘s really interesting. So, overall, you‘re not buying it. You‘re saying, like, he didn‘t want to mess with his base, that‘s why he gave such a greet speech on, oh, progressive vision, values, et cetera, but you think he‘s not going to do that. You think he‘s actually going to be very much in favor of that commission, which we don‘t like?
MILBANK: When you talk to White House officials, that‘s what I‘m hearing. All signs sort of point in that direction.
I mean, there‘s a lot of jockeying going on. And you were just talking with Jan Schakowsky. I was at their event today.
I think it‘s very smart of them to come out and say, hey, we can solve this problem with 80 percent of the money coming from tax increases. I think it‘s good for the president to have that on his left as a counterweight to Paul Ryan.
So, this is all about positioning right now, it‘s not about negotiating. And I think while this will not come as good news to you, I think signs still point towards that Bowles/Simpson plan.
UYGUR: All right.
Well, David, let me get the progressive perspective from you. Does that hearten you or does that really concern you?
DAVID SIROTA, FMR. DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, look, there‘s a lot of good things in this and there‘s a lot of bad things, as usual.
I mean, I think the good thing is that the president now has a fight
over taxes and tax fairness on his hands, which I think is winning terrain
for Democrats, and I think it‘s winning terrain if you want to see our tax
rates become more progressive. I think the bad news is, is that there is -
for every dollar raised from tax reform, there‘s $3 raised from spending cuts, and a lot of those spending cuts come from major programs that are both progressive and wildly popular in America.
So what I would say is that I think that he‘s trying to split the difference here. I do think he is somewhat in the middle. And I agree with Dana, that I think congressional Democrats have an obligation to really stake out a much more progressive position, because if they don‘t, he‘s exactly right, the president will—he has in the past—he will run, my guess is, to simply embrace the Republican position even more than perhaps he already has.
UYGUR: Dana, is that a winning strategy, politically, for 2012? You speak like a Democrat and act like a Republican?
MILBANK: Well, I guess so. I mean, the president has been following this pattern all along, that he sort of sounds themes that excite his base, then he basically leaves the details up to Capitol Hill. We saw that with the stimulus, we saw it with health care, we‘re seeing it again happening now.
I mean, in the end, it‘s going to matter what is actually in this final plan, assuming they can agree on anything at all. He aggravated liberals greatly with the deal struck very recently. And I think the White House felt a lot of that heat, and I think that‘s why you got the kind of speech that you got today.
And, incidentally, I think we should say the Republican presidential candidates are pounding Obama, but they‘re not really all that much. The only one who is fully behind this Ryan plan is Rick Santorum, and we all know where that campaign is going.
UYGUR: Absolutely nowhere.
But let‘s talk about the more relevant campaign, which is Obama‘s campaign.
David, do you think it‘s a smart strategy? Because, you know, of course conventional wisdom is you want to be in the center, you want to be above it, and you want to say, hey, look, I‘m doing a bit of this and a bit of that, I‘m giving you some tax increases, because—although they call it—what is it, spending cuts from taxes? Because they don‘t want to call it tax increases.
SIROTA: Tax expenditures.
UYGUR: Yes, that‘s right. And spending cuts. Or do you think, hey, you know what, a more progressive strategy would simply be a better strategy politically?
SIROTA: Well, look, I think it‘s cynical. Right?
I think the expectation on the Obama administration‘s part and Obama strategists has been what it‘s always been, which is we can say really nice things and our progressive base won‘t catch up to any of the details, because what they see on television when the president speaks is what they want to hear. The question is, how much does this become a debate about the actual details in this plan, and how much of it just becomes traded sound bites?
Typically, with budget politics, having worked on the Appropriations Committee years ago, typically it becomes, unfortunately, about sound bites, not about details. But my guess is, that if the Republicans really dig in, if the Republican presidential candidates really dig in on this and make it a debate about big sets of details, then I think you‘re going to have perhaps somewhat of an erosion of grassroots support. Not to say that that grassroots support is going to go vote for the Republican, but somewhat of an erosion of enthusiasm for the president when people realize that he hasn‘t taken on in this plan yet the major challenges in a progressive way that he could.
UYGUR: You know, I‘m going to be honest with you guys. You have discouraged me a little bit. OK? And I‘ll tell you why.
Because I listened to the speech and I‘m like, God, it‘s a good progressive vision, and he keeps talking about how important it is for everybody to pay their fair share, et cetera. But I get the sense from both of you that you‘re not buying it, that it‘s just talk.
And, Dana, I mean, you‘re—tell me a little bit more about your reporting on that, because I think that“ really important. Is he going to basically do that deficit commission? Because if he does, that‘s not progressive at all.
MILBANK: It certainly sounds that way to me. And, you know, we‘ve seen this sort of movie before.
Now, if you look at the health care debate, I would argue that whatever the president wanted to end up with, even if he wanted this plan, perhaps he should have started out saying, hey, actually, I do want socialized medicine. Then they could have split the difference in a different place just as a purely tactical matter.
But the White House has been sending out all kinds of signs. Bowles and Simpson were there today. They‘ve been fairly encouraging. You know, the president is supportive of this Gang of Six in the Senate that‘s basically mimicking Bowles and Simpson. So I think signs do point that way.
UYGUR: Right. Oh, well. It was a nice speech.
The Washington Post‘s Dana Milbank and columnist David Sirota.
Thank you both for joining us.
And Dana, nice tie. I have the same exact one.