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President Obama and Congressional leadership

Here's what President Obama had to say about progressives this morning in his press conference (transcript provided by the White House):
And, so, that's where I have a selling job, Chuck, is trying to sell some of our party that if you are a progressive, you should be concerned about debt and deficit just as much as if you're a conservative. And the reason is because if the only thing we're talking about over the next year, two years, five years is debt and deficits, then it's very hard to start talking about how do we make investments in community colleges so that our kids are trained. How do we actually rebuild $2 trillion worth of crumbling infrastructure.  You know, if you care about making investments in our kids and making investments in our infrastructure  and making investments in basic research then you should want our fiscal house in order so that every time we propose a new initiative, somebody doesn't just throw up their hands and say more big spending, more government. You know, it would be very helpful for us to be able to say to the American people, our fiscal house is in order. So, now the question is, what should we be doing to win the future and make ourselves more competitive and create more jobs and what aspects of what government's doing are a waste, and we should eliminate. And that's the kind of debate that I'd like to have.

Here's how Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) responds [via e-mail]:

"Dear Mr. President,

"The Progressive Caucus has introduced the only budget that creates a surplus by 2021 because we take seriously the need for a strong economy and manageable debt. Our budget eliminates the deficit in 10 years and creates jobs while protecting the programs our constituents rely on. We stand ready to work with you, as we have throughout this process, to solve the budget impasse in a way that helps rather than punishes the American people. With the House under tea party control and the Senate held hostage by Mitch McConnell, it is up to you to fly the standard of the people who elected you. We feel our budget achieves your policy goals, and we look forward to producing a successful outcome for our economy and our constituents at home."

That's pretty hard to argue with, so expect it to be completely ignored. But the larger point is that progressives, either in Congress or in the base President Obama is so happy to regularly take on, do also care about the deficit. They recognize that the key to long-term economic stability for the country requires putting the nation back to work.

David Dayen has some good progressive reaction to this statement from Obama.

Earlier in the press conference, Obama said that the budget deficit exploded because of unpaid tax cuts, an unpaid prescription drug benefit in Medicare, two wars and the recession. That’s largely correct, although the prescription drug benefit was a smaller portion of that overall total. But if you believe that, it seems that the course of action would be to end the Bush tax cuts, end the wars and get people back to work. Yet none of this will be a feature of even the “grand bargain” proposal that Obama still wants. He is wary of cutting defense, he wants to only end 1/5 of the Bush tax cuts, and any stimulative measures are just extensions of current law, swamped by cuts to the discretionary budget and contractionary fiscal policy.

As for the idea that you can get the deficit “off the table,” I think the word naive actually fits best here. Even a $4 trillion solution would be a smaller deficit reduction than the majority of the Republican caucus called for. It would be smaller than the Ryan budget, which all but four in both chambers of the House voted for. Republicans are never going to stop shrieking about stopping the spending. And they would especially be angered by efforts to invest (which they have effectively turned into code for spending) after any deficit reduction. "Obama said he wanted to put our fiscal house in order, and now he wants to put a wrecking ball to the house again!" would be the rallying cry. I don't see any way to get around that.

There isn't a way around it. Obama seems to believe, and seems to be backed up by his advisers in the White House, that by dealing with the deficit now, by dealing with cuts to Social Security and Medicare now, he'll be neutralizing them as issues. Republicans will never give up these issues. What dday said: the next time Obama wants to try spending, to try to do something to create jobs, they'll cry "tax and spend liberal."

The other thing that they will do, and we have seen more than enough evidence so far that this is the plan, is run against Obama's and the Democrats' cuts to the safety net. They did it in 2010 with the big lie that the Affordable Care Act cut Medicare, and they'll do it again. Obama's big deal will give them all the ammunition they need.

And the goal post will be moved again, further right. Again, and again, and again.

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