I'm throwing my two cents into the proverbial wishing well, hoping the President plays this deadly serious game the right way. Mess up this debate over the long-term budget, and he could end up going down in history as the Democrat who dimantled the legacy of FDR and Lyndon Johnson!
So how can President Obama avoid this fate? Here's how...
1) It's still the economy stupid
The first and last thing out of his mouth should be that improving the economy is the number one thing we can do to improve the deficit picture. Until economic growth picks up, the country will essentially be climbing up hill in the fight to fix the deficit. This is the politically smart thing to do because voters consistently rate the economy above the deficit in terms of their top concerns. And, if improved economic performance is the primary goal (because it lowers the deficit better than anything else we can do in the short-term) then policies that HURT economic growth are to be avoided at all costs. After agreeing to $39B in cuts this year it will be harder to argue against more cuts, but that argument must be made. More importantly, the President must harken back to the 90's at every opportunity, pointing to the strong economic growth that accompanied an INCREASE in the tax rates for the wealthy. Link the economy to the case for higher revenues and you stand a much better chance of ending the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich.
2) Bargain from a position of strength
After Health Care, the 2010 tax deal and the 2011 spending bill you would think that this advice would not be necessary but I'm not willing to take that chance! Shoot for the moon and slowly make your way back to Earth. This would be something along the lines of a huge revenue boost (transaction tax, 50% top marginal rate, temporary millionaires surtax) and no pain for the poor/middle class. Take it all from the rich and the Pentagon and go from there. The Republicans understand this strategy. Just look at the Ryan 2012 budget plan. Do you really think the House Republicans think this plan will pass the Congress untouched?
3) Remind the American people that the folks on the other side of the table have NO credibility when it comes to budget issues
It is imperative that the President articulate the fact that Republican zeal for deficit reduction is a new phenomenon. It was not high on their agenda during the George W. Bush administration (let alone the Reagan administration). And yet, today they have grabbed the issue and presented themselves as the party that is most serious about cutting the deficit. After pointing out the lack of credibility, move on to say that the Republican party has been opposed to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security throughout its existence. Ask the American people if they are willing to believe that this new passion for deficit reduction is altruistic, or just another attempt to undermine the social safetynet.