Obama to Unveil ‘Grand Bargain’ on Deficit and Debt Reduction

BY David Chalian  April 13, 2011 at 8:38 AM EST

President Obama

President Obama is set to give a major speech on his plan to address the nation’s deficits and debt. Photo by Shawn Thew/Pool via Bloomberg.

The Morning Line

When President Obama takes the stage at George Washington University at 1:35 p.m. EDT Wednesday, the task before him will be similar to a Tarzan-style vine swinging over all of the pitfalls below.

The president is expected to touch on all of the components he believes need to work in concert with each other in order to bring about significant debt and deficit reduction. Those components include: tax increases on the wealthy, Medicare and Medicaid savings, continued spending restraint by the federal government and cuts in defense spending.

With each component, of course, President Obama will open himself up for criticism and attack from some corner in the political universe.

House Speaker John Boehner has already pre-sponded on the tax issue.

“If the President begins the discussion by saying we must increase taxes on the American people — as his budget does — my response will be clear: Tax increases are unacceptable and are a nonstarter,” Rep. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement.

As for the savings in Medicare and Medicaid, the president’s left flank is already wary.

“Now that the details are out, we know the truth: Once again last week, Republicans in Congress held the nation hostage over their agenda of handouts for millionaires and cutbacks for the rest of us. And once again, Democrats let them do it,” MoveOn.org Executive Director Justin Ruben said.

“That’s why MoveOn members overwhelmingly oppose this budget. We hope that tomorrow the President will stand up and use the power of the bully pulpit to make a strong and clear case that Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid need to be protected, and that he will not allow the American Dream to be held hostage again by Republicans in Congress,” he added.

President Obama is on a clear re-election path to win back independents and moderates, and there’s little doubt that that mission will be evident throughout much of his speech.

However, by waiting for Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to first put forth his budget proposal last week, the president likely did himself some favors in tending to his base. President Obama is expected to make it clear that he opposes Rep. Ryan’s approach to move Medicare to a more private health insurance based system. Be on the lookout for strong words from President Obama on that and on rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts on the wealthy as the key, base assuaging components of his remarks.

But the biggest pitfall President Obama needs to avoid is a stylistic and narrative shaping one.

The president was widely criticized by his political opponents and the press for offering a budget proposal in February that punted on these very big fiscal issues. He must make certain that when he leaves the stage, headline writers will have a very tough time incorporating “vague” or “non-specific” into their copy.

Republicans are eager to portray President Obama as a “failed leader” at every turn. It’ll be important to see if he uses the bully pulpit Wednesday as an effort to shatter that message frame.

ROMNEY’S ROLL OUT

In his first television interview as a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney stuck to his states rights/10th Amendment/federalism defense of his health care law in Massachusetts and stayed far shy of a reversal, apology or acknowledgment of mistake.

Here’s a bit of Romney’s response to CNBC’s Larry Kudlow:

“One thing I learned is this, which is that you don’t take ideas from a state and try and impose them on the whole nation. Our nation is too different, too diverse to say that what works in Massachusetts is somehow going to be grabbed by the federal government, usurping the power of states and imposing a one-size-fits-all plan on the nation. That will not work. And I’m very happy that the Democrats are celebrating the fact that we put in place a health care proposal in Massachusetts, an experiment. And I have one question for them. Why didn’t any one of them or the president ever call me and say, `What worked? What didn’t?’”

Romney also showed up on CNBC to deliver this message: “Look, when it comes to the economy, the president has been incompetent.”

The former governor of Massachusetts is expected to spend much of this campaign portraying himself as the competent manager who can be the adult in the room to steer America back to prosperity.

And perhaps unlike in his 2008 run when he worked to appeal to every ideological corner of his party, Romney made crystal clear that he wasn’t going to play Donald Trump’s game on the validity of the president’s birth certificate.

“I think the citizenship test has been passed. I believe the president was born in the United States,” Romney told Kudlow.

SANTORUM NEXT?

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum has long been giving off signs that he was seriously considering a run for president. Wednesday night he could make it official.

The New Hampshire Union Leader’s John DiStaso reports that the Republican “will discuss the next step he will be taking regarding a potential presidential candidacy” in an appearance on the Fox News show “On the Record” with Greta Van Susteren.

Fox News suspended Santorum as an on-air contributor in early March and gave him until May 1 to rule out a presidential bid or have his contract terminated.

With two major contenders — Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty — all but in the race at this point, and Newt Gingrich not far behind, it would make sense that Santorum would be looking sooner rather than later to enter the fray.

That time could be now, following Santorum’s decisive victory in last Saturday’s straw poll taken at the Republican Party convention in Greenville County, S.C.

Santorum has been a regular presence in the critical early nominating states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, making more than a dozen visits to each.

He’s also committed to two of the scheduled GOP presidential debates, the first coming May 5 in Greenville, S.C., and the second taking place June 7 in New Hampshire.

While an announcement by Santorum that he’s forming an exploratory committee would hardly be a surprise at this point, it still gives some certainty to an otherwise uncertain race so far.

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