Obama budget concessions to the right of GOP voters

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(NNPA)—A recent Gallup poll shows that most Americans support President Obama’s plan to raise the nation debt ceiling, set to expire Aug. 2, with a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, especially on corporations and the wealthy. Republican leaders, on the other hand, are resisting any tax increases, a position not favored even by Republican voters.

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In the poll, taken July 7-10, only 20 percent of Americans say deficit reduction should be achieved solely through spending cuts. Another 30 percent say it should be done mostly with spending cuts and 32 percent believe the goal should be reached equally with spending cuts and tax increases.

Among Republicans, 24 percent favor an equal split between spending reductions and tax cuts, 26 percent favor only spending cuts and 41 percent favor reaching the target with mostly spending cuts. Among independents, 30 percent favor mostly tax increases, 28 percent support an equal share of spending cuts and tax increases, and 23 percent prefer mostly spending cuts.

The largest share of Democrats—42 percent—favor an equal split between spending cuts and additional taxes, followed by 23 percent who mostly want spending cuts and 12 percent who favor mostly tax increases.

Writing in the New York Times, Nate Silver noted: “Much to the chagrin of many Democrats, the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close, or perhaps to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.”

Make no mistake about it, this posturing over the deficit is directly related to the 2012 presidential election. Republicans have concluded that making a deal with a Democratic president, even one who is willing to give them most of what they want, will not help them in the next election cycle. For his part, Obama has concluded that a deal on raising the debt ceiling, even a bad deal, bodes well for his re-election campaign.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, an economist, said, “President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction plan that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility.

“…If a Republican president had managed to extract the kind of concessions on Medicare and Social Security that Mr. Obama is offering, it would have been considered a conservative triumph. But when those concessions come attached to minor increases in revenue, and more important, when they come from a Democratic president, the proposals become unacceptable plans to tax the life out of the U.S. economy.”

Obama has public opinion on his side yet he is caving in to conservative Republican leaders who are being forced to move even more out of the mainstream by right-wing Tea Party fanatics.

A June 9 poll by Quinnipiac University found that voters will blame Republicans over Obama by a margin of 48 percent to 34 percent if the debt limit is not raised. Additionally, by a margin of 67-25, voters believe that the agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.

The public debate is being framed in the context of lowering the deficit, but that’s a smokescreen. The real GOP goal is to shrink the size of the federal government, especially agencies with regulatory power.

Even with public opinion on his side, Obama is unlikely to force Republicans to take a stand. It is part of an increasingly disturbing pattern: President Obama makes major concessions to Republicans in hopes of reaching a bipartisan agreement, but in the end GOP leaders walk away from the table, with the administration gaining nothing in the process.

Mark my word: Republicans are not going to agree to even minor increases in taxes to accompany the draconian cuts in social spending that Obama has put on the table. They know by now that they can always play a game of chicken with Obama and he invariably blinks.

More than likely, Obama will accept the scheme of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—the man who said his top priority is denying President Obama a second term—to empower the president to raise the debt ceiling without Republican support.

Under the so-called Plan B, which has been endorsed by Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., Congress would empower the president to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in three increments over the next year. Republicans in the House and Senate would seek to pass a resolution of disapproval, allowing them to blame Obama for raising the debt limit. Obama would veto resolution of disapproval, if it passes both chambers. Congress is unlikely to have the two-third votes needed to override the president’s veto.

No-drama-Obama is likely to go along with the scheme and defend it by saying America’s economic health was at risk. But Republicans share that responsibility. Obama should reject the McConnell proposal and have a showdown with Republicans more interested in their political fortunes than the future of the country. They should not be given an easy way out.

If Obama walks into the political trap set by McConnell, he will give Republicans the cuts in domestic programs they wanted, no tax revenue will be added to the pot, and the GOP will be able to blame Obama in 2012 for raising the debt. That’s not the change we’ve been waiting for.

(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, http://www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at http://www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)

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