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November 24, 2010

Debt/Deficit Reduction: Will Obama Again be AWOL? [rdbrewer]

Last year, Obama was criticized for not taking the lead on health care reform. After Scott Brown's election in Massachusetts, Obama's involvement in the negotiatons evaporated. At one point, even Al Franken took David Axlerod aside to ask why the Whitehouse wasn't doing more to help. Franken joined Bernie Sanders and Sherrod Brown in public criticism of the Whitehouse role. That was around the time Obama turned over health care reform to Nancy Pelosi for the most part.

Now for delegation of leadership, part II. A while back, the Whitehouse charged Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson with discovering what could be done about the debt/deficit. Obama made them co-chairs of the bi-partisan Debt Commission. Good so far. But since the time of their November 10th draft proposal, liberals and conservatives alike have been grousing, since both spending cuts and tax increases have been proposed. On the plus side, there has been scant praise--which is better than no praise. What is a politican like Obama to do? Well, he could duck and cover like he did when Scott Brown was elected.

Yet missing from the conversation in any kind of forceful way has been the president himself. When former Senator Simpson and Mr. Bowles, President Clinton's former chief of staff, put out their draft plan (in a surprise move three weeks before the final report's Dec. 1 due date), Obama was in Asia. A spokesman said he would wait for the final report before commenting.

Obama's Nov. 13 radio address did take a baby step toward committing on fiscal matters: In addressing earmarks, he spoke of putting "our country on the path of fiscal discipline and responsibility."

But Obama probably can't rely on others to do the heavy lifting. Few observers expect the fiscal commission to reach the supermajority needed – 14 out of 18 members, most of them politically sensitive members of Congress – to approve a final report. That means Congress is likely not to face a vote on its recommendations.

But final report or not, Obama has an opportunity to demonstrate leadership on a matter of central national importance. Dec. 1 "should mark the handing of the torch to the president to start running with this issue," says Maya MacGuineas, director of the Fiscal Policy Program at the New America Foundation in Washington.

The proposal has many worthwhile elements. For example, federal payroll would be cut by 10%. The spending cuts in the plan amount to twice the debt/deficit reduction as do the tax increases.

A week after the Debt Commission released its draft proposal, another bi-partisan committee headed by Alice Rivlin and Pete Domenici released a even tougher proposal. But I'm suspicious of a plan that introduces a federal sales tax without replacing the income tax. Regardless, there are many avenues toward reducing the debt/deficit--many excellent bits and pieces in these plans--and it is looking like Obama will again be AWOL. He's missing an excellent opportunity to take the lead and cobble together a workable plan from these parts. Maybe he could put Nancy Pelosi on it.

Thanks to Gabriel Malor.

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posted by Open Blogger at 02:23 PM

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