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Barack Obama
Obama to outline a real alternative to GOP
fiscal platitudes? (Photo: White House)
 

On the one hand, there's the Los Angeles Times, teasing the details of what could be a powerful, substantive roadmap for how America should deal with it's long-term fiscal challenges:

President Obama will call for shrinking the nation's long-term deficits by raising taxes on wealthier Americans and requiring them to pay more into Social Security, drawing a barbed contrast with a Republican plan to save money by deeply slashing Medicare, Medicaid and other domestic spending.

Obama will offer some spending cuts, including trims to the Pentagon's budget, but his speech Wednesday is likely to provide Americans with a vivid choice between higher taxes or fewer benefits, issues that will color the national debate straight through the 2012 election.

...

Obama would end tax breaks for households earning more than $250,000 a year, trim Pentagon spending, lift a cap on the amount of income that is assessed for Social Security, and save on Medicare and Medicaid through alterations to healthcare delivery, administration officials said. He will speak about 1:30 p.m. Eastern time on the campus of George Washington University.

And on the other hand you have the Washington Post, predicting a mushy goo of tired platitudes:

President Obama plans this week to respond to a Republican blueprint for tackling the soaring national debt by promoting a bipartisan approach pioneered by an independent presidential commission rather than introducing his own detailed plan.

Obama will not blaze a fresh path when he delivers a much-anticipated speech Wednesday afternoon at George Washington University. Instead, he is expected to offer support for the commission’s work and a related effort underway in the Senate to develop a strategy for curbing borrowing. Obama will frame the approach as a responsible alternative to the 2012 plan unveiled last week by House Republicans, according to people briefed by the White House.

Letting others take the lead on complex problems has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency. On health care, last year’s tax deal and the recent battle over 2011 spending cuts, Obama has repeatedly waited as others set the parameters of the debate, swooping in late to cut a deal. The tactic has produced significant victories but exposed Obama to criticism that he has shown a lack of leadership.

Which one is right? Probably, as President Obama might say, each story has a little bit going for it. But I'm sure hoping the L.A. Times report is closer to the truth. Obviously, we shouldn't expect President Obama to take the stage and issue a blistering, red hot, barn burner of a speech. Like it or hate it, that's not his style, at least when he's not on the campaign trail. Nonetheless, no matter how polite or even-tempered his tone may be, if he takes the opportunity to draw a contrast with the GOP along as outlined in the L.A. Times article, its substance will be brutal and devastating. And with Republicans spending the week on their latest ideological bender, Paul Ryan's plan to eliminate Medicare, the timing couldn't be better for that sort of message.

Odds are, he will make some favorable reference to the deficit commission—after all, he appointed it. But the real test will be what ideas he takes from the commission. Lifting payroll tax cap? Huzzah! Raising retirement age past 67 (to which it is currently rising)? Boo! Hiss! The point I'm making: it's the details that matter, not the hot air surrounding them.

And we'll know those details tomorrow.

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