The White House Deficit Reduction Plan Has Come Too Late

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Congressional leaders will visit with President Obama on Wednesday to get a preview of his speech backing a clear deficit reduction plan for the first time in his presidency. On Tuesday morning, the president was expected to support many of the proposals of his deficit panel* ... but by this afternoon, the White House indicated the president would back a more liberal plan. "This will make more sense tomorrow," the White House has told reporters. Hope so!

There is not much news about the details of the speech, but I'll say a word about the politics. Earlier today, I spoke with a Democrat close to the deficit commission and asked him whether he was relieved or honored  the president had finally decided to adopt the Simpson-Bowles proposal. His response: Not really. Why? I asked. I'm worried this has all come too late.

The White House had at least three chances to own the deficit issue: first when the commission made its proposal in December, second when the president made the State of the Union address this year, and third when the White House was solicited by 64 members of the Senate to join the public fight to reduce the debt. The White House demurred all three times.

One month ago, I asked a high-ranking Treasury official when the White House would join the deficit debate. When the time is right, he responded.

The time is right, apparently. But the timing is not. Rather than lead the deficit betting with an opening bid, the White House checked, and checked, and checked ... and now finds itself forced to call Paul Ryan's ultra-bold and ultra-conservative plan to reform the tax code, repeal Obamacare and cut Medicare and Medicaid. No matter how this turns out, the White House has put itself in a reactive position, forced to drag the debate center of gravity back from the far right.

_________
*If the president does support his panel's recommendations, you can expect the speech to look like this:

-- raising effective tax rates on all but the poorest Americans
-- slowing the growth of Social Security checks and increasing the payroll tax cap
-- cutting $100 billion from both defense and non-defense spending by 2015
-- trying to shave a percentage point or more off of the growth of health care spending

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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