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April, 5th 2011

Why Ryan's plan could be a real problem for Obama

– Liz Mair

Phil Klein basically lays it out here:

The problem Obama faces is that he himself has said that current entitlement costs are unsustainable. “I refuse to pass this problem on to another generation of Americans," he declared in his 2010 State of the Union Address, in which he established a bipartisan Fiscal Commission. For a whole year, whenever he was asked about long-term deficits, he’d point out that he was waiting for the commission to report back. Yet ultimately, he ignored their proposals and produced an unserious budget that did not address entitlements. Obama was able to get away with it as long as Republicans offered only rhetoric and symbolic measures, but no serious proposals to do anything about the fiscal crisis.

Yet whether you agree or disagree with his approach, it’s clear that Ryan’s budget is a serious deficit-reduction plan that grapples with the problem. If Obama responds to Ryan with his own deficit reduction plan that confronts entitlements, his liberal base will go apoplectic. Yet if he doesn’t offer anything, then all his talk about being the
kind of president who would set politics aside to deal with the nation’s challenges looks even more empty than it already does.

In 2012, as Obama is up for reelection, the federal deficit is slated to be $1.1 trillion, according to the White House’s own estimates. If he is opposing Ryan’s budget, but not offering any serious counter-proposal of his own, he’ll have his work cut out for him. And this time, it’ll be hard to skate by simply by blaming George W. Bush.

Quite.  Phil's point is one I've been making over the last two days, in comments to reporters and over at Politico.  The basic point that must be continuously underlined is that Obama actively decided to ignore entitlements and the real challenges that entitlement spending in the absence of reform presents when putting together his budget. Literally, the most he's done here is empower a commission to look at the issue-- a commission whose recommendations he has decided to ignore, also.  "Decide" is a critical term here, and the more Americans understand that this was a decision, not a matter of just punting, or not being bothered, or forgetting, or whatever, the worse this debate is for Obama.  By deciding not to act, he is preferring two options.  First, entitlements go bust, as they are set to.  Or, we attempt to save them by massively raising taxes.

Ryan is offering a third option, and while it's certainly not going to appeal to everyone, it's more appealing than entitlements going bust, or (to a lot of people, anyway) big, fat tax increases.  Obama handling this the way he has to-date may not work out so well. [intro]

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