I've been hearing a lot of this basic argument the past few weeks:
Obama Sucks. He's a Republican. He sold us out. He's going to destroy Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. He's going to eviscerate our social safety net.
That, however, doesn't really comport much to the reality of the situation. That reality is quite different, even if we don't know what the exact parameters of the deal are going to be. The reality of the situation is that Social Security doesn't look like it will be touched. As Ezra Klein explained yesterday:
Today’s Republican Party thinks the key problem America faces is out-of-control entitlement spending. But cutting entitlement spending is unpopular and the GOP’s coalition relies heavily on seniors. And so they don’t want to propose entitlement cuts. If possible, they’d even like to attack President Obama for proposing entitlement cuts. But they also want to see entitlements cut and will refuse to solve the fiscal cliff or raise the debt ceiling unless there are entitlement cuts.The same holds true, as far was we know, for Medicare and Medicaid.
Then there is the reality of the tax discussion. We don't know what the exact threshold will be, but we do know that taxes will be going up on the wealthy. Ever since President Obama won re-election, that has been the debate. We haven't been debating whether taxes will go up, but who they will go up on and by how much. Even the Republicans acknowledge this. They try and fudge the numbers and the terms, but they know that revenue will be part of any deal.
Criticizing President Obama today, Jonathan Chait speaks of a fault I share with the President. Discussing Republican hostage-taking in New York Magazine, Chait writes:
Hostage-taking is not simply aggressive or even irrational negotiating. It is the specific tactic of extracting concessions by threatening to withhold support for policies you yourself endorse, simply because your opponent cares more about the damage. Republicans agree that the debt ceiling must be lifted, but forced Obama to offer them policies he opposed because they believed he cared more about damage to the country than they did.And therein is the exact problem. President Obama does care more about damage to the country than the Republicans do. He would rather compromise on policy, and give Republicans some of what they want, rather than risk the greater, and immediate, harm that can easily occur if he refuses to yield. Simply put, as Matthew Yglesias explains in Slate, it's the balance of potential harm in the future that can still be corrected vs. immediate harm that cannot:
But it also has substantial virtues. Rescinding the high-end Bush tax cuts doesn't feed the hungry, educate children, or treat the sick. It doesn't curb pollution and it doesn't reduce unemployment. It's something Democrats think should be done in the long term to reduce the need for long-term cuts to federal retirement programs, but in the short term it's not something that would make anyone in America better off in any concrete way. The stuff Reid is talking about trading for would.This is why I trust President Obama. He doesn't see just one small part of the field, but the whole field. He's looking at the fact that tomorrow everyone's taxes go up. He's looking at the fact that people that need unemployment insurance will lose it tomorrow. He's looking at the fact that those tax increases, spending cuts and uncertainty can throw us back into recession.
The stuff we don't like that happens down the road can be corrected and we'll have some time to do it. The pain that people will feel tomorrow if we don't do anything can't be as easily corrected and we don't have nearly the same time before the pain really hits home. Thankfully, President Obama understands this perfectly.