Bob Woodward got his hands on the deal memo that President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner struck in 2011 in their effort to secure a budget deal that would appease the Republicans who took the national economy hostage. Via Americablog, he described it on Meet the Press and it's bad. Really bad.
"This is a confidential document, last offer the president—the White House made last year to Speaker Boehner to try to reach this $4 trillion grand bargain. And it's long and it's tedious and it's got budget jargon in it. But what it shows is a willingness to cut all kinds of things, like TRICARE, which is the sacred health insurance program for the military, for military retirees; to cut Social Security; to cut Medicare. And there are some lines in there about, "We want to get tax rates down, not only for individuals but for businesses." So Obama and the White House were willing to go quite far."That was 2011. The question now is how much of that is still on Obama's table. He's still proposing deficit reduction of $4 trillion over 10 years, with a 3-to-1 mix of spending cuts and revenue increases. As Ryan Grim details at Huffington Post, there just isn't a lot of fat to cut out of the budget to get at that kind of reduction without starting in on benefits and services provided by the government. Cuts to oil and gas and agricultural subsidies will only get you so far, and negotiators were only able to find about $40 billion in waste and fraud that they could agree to cut.
That leaves food stamps, (already slashed by $4 billion over the next year by the Senate, with the House still not taking action), billions in federal and military pensions, another several billion from home health care programs, raising the Medicare eligibility age, cutting Social Security benefits by recalibrating the Consumer Price Index, and of course the military and veterans health care programs. All of this was included in the negotiations between Obama and Boehner, and the parallel talks between Biden and Cantor. All of these ideas have been floated, with at least some support from the White House.
The question now is whether the White House will accept the mandate the American people gave them to push for the expiration of the tax cuts on the wealthy, and reject the idea that a grand bargain has to be struck at all now. It might be too much to hope that Obama will recognize that this austerity and deficit obsession has been little more than a crisis manufactured by Republicans to try to get those structural changes in the safety net, but it's worth trying, and reminding the president of what matters to the people who gave him four more years.
Voters, in the exit polls and in the voting booth, expressed what they wanted out of this election: "Work harder on creating jobs and holding the line on prices, because economic worries are more important than cutting the deficit right now." That's what the next four years needs to be focused on.