Could Obama's Deficit-Reduction Plan Get Any More Centrist?


What would Bob Rubin do?

That's the question David Brooks asked Ezra Klein a few weeks ago when the two talked about what to do with the sequester. Brooks said he wished President Obama would do something "Clintonesque," like "what [former Treasury Secretary] Robert Rubin would describe."

Well, as Klein readily pointed out, it's no mystery what Rubin thinks. He co-authored the long-term debt plan the Center for American Progress put out, which called for $1.8 trillion in new revenues and $385 billion in Medicare savings. Taken together with the spending caps from the Budget Control Act, it all adds up to a one-to-one ratio (approximately) of spending cuts to revenue increases.

Rubin touted the same kind of balanced approach to deficit reduction during his talk today with David Wessel of the Wall Street Journal at The Atlantic Economy Summit. In particular, Rubin thinks the additional cuts the Obama administration has proposed -- $400 billion in Medicare savings, $200 billion in non-health, and $130 billion from chained CPI (which includes another $100 billion in increased revenue) -- are the right kind of cuts. The wrong kind of cuts are, unfortunately, the cuts we're getting right now: the sequester. Those cuts take non-defense discretionary spending -- things like education, research, and infrastructure -- far below its lowest level since 1970. Instead, Rubin thinks we need to pair Obama's smarter cuts with some smarter revenue increases, if only to take the pressure of deficit reduction off of public investment. He said those revenue increases should be somewhere around $600 billion from cutting tax expenditures, which, together with the revenue from the fiscal cliff deal, would only amount to $1.2 trillion of the $1.8 trillion Rubin originally wanted.

As you can see in the chart below, Rubin's plan to replace the sequester is almost evenly split between cuts and revenue increases.


To be clear, Rubin's plan to replace the sequester is identical to Obama's plan. There is no difference whatsoever. None. Just try to remember that one person here is a "centrist" and the other is a "partisan".

David Brooks (who, to his credit, later admitted his mistake), told Klein that he wished Obama would be that centrist. More specifically, he said he wanted the administration to "have a budget policy that looked a lot more like what Robert Rubin would describe, and if the Republicans rejected that, moderates like me would say that's awful, the White House really did come out with a centrist plan."

What if Bob Rubin moved to the right to embrace Obama's plan? Does that count?
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Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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