maybe President Obama was
secretly crossing his fingers
behind his back.
Republicans are waving around a column by the New York Times’ Bill Keller that pins the blame for the sequester on the President. The title is “Obama’s fault,” and Keller’s effort is reminiscent of plenty of other punditry we’ve seen that adopts all kinds of strange contortions en route to reaching this conclusion.The problem, as Sargent documents, is that President Obama actually has embraced the Simpson-Bowles plan. Keller's thesis is rooted in nonsense. You can make the case that President Obama was wrong to embrace Simpson and Bowles ... but it's just false to claim that he didn't embrace them. And he did so during the heat of the campaign. For example, during President Obama's DNC speech, he said:
In Keller’s case, though, the zeal to find Obama at fault for the sequester impasse leads him to commit a straight up falsehood. Keller offers up the widely held belief that if only Obama had embraced the Simpson-Bowles commission’s plan, he’d have a good deal more leverage to force Republicans to compromise.
I'm still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission. No party has a monopoly on wisdom. No democracy works without compromise. I want to get this done, and we can get it done.Setting aside the fact that the commission never voted to support the Simpson-Bowles plan, Obama clearly nonetheless embraced the plan that the two two men proposed. Moreover, he did so while literally speaking to his party's base—exactly as the Simpson-Bowles acolytes demand of him. Then, one month later, Obama did it again, during the first presidential debate, telling Mitt Romney that embracing the Simpson and Bowles plan is "what we've done." Obama said he had "made some adjustments to it, and we're putting it forward before Congress right now, a $4 trillion plan."
In other words, Obama repeatedly did what Keller says he should have done. And what did he get in exchange from Keller? Nothing but grief.
The Simpson-Bowles agenda was imperfect, and had plenty to offend ideologues of the left and right, which meant that it was the very manifestation of what Obama likes to call “a balanced approach.” So did he seize it as an opportunity for serious debate about our fiscal mess? No, he abandoned it. Instead, he built a re-election campaign that was long on making the wealthiest pay more in taxes, short on spending discipline, and firmly hands-off on the problem of entitlements.Given that Keller is one of the few people in America who are actually super-duper-enthusiastic about supporting the Simpson-Bowles plan, you'd think he'd give the president credit not just for putting Simpson and Bowles on the map in the first place, but for embracing their ideas even as members of both parties go running for the hills.
If Obama had campaigned on some version of Simpson-Bowles rather than on poll-tested tax hikes alone, he could now claim a mandate from voters to do something big and bold. Most important, he would have some leverage with members of his own base who don’t want to touch Medicare even to save it. This was missed opportunity No. 1.
Instead, Keller pens an op-ed that relies on a false representation of the facts to conclude that the sequester situation is "Obama's fault." Keller should issue a correction, though I doubt he will. But in the slim chance that he does confess to getting the facts wrong, I sincerely hope he doesn't blame it on Obama.