What Will Obama Say on Wednesday?

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Interesting to see the White House trying to moderate expectations of Obama's speech on Wednesday about deficits and debt. More was read into David Plouffe's comments on the Sunday talk shows about this than seemed warranted to me. Nothing Plouffe said committed Obama to pronounce his own budget, just two months old, dead, which is what needs to happen. The mooted new initiatives are not new. They are perennial Obama themes. Tax increases on the rich? Already in the budget. Cost controls for Medicare? Already in the budget. But reporters sprang to the conclusion that the speech would make detailed new commitments--"Obama to act on entitlements", and all that.

Now of course the White House has to contend with the disappointment that will follow the speech if it falls short of these inflated hopes. A nice challenge for the speechwriters. Hence the sudden change of tack. On Sunday, we heard that the president was about to lay out a new plan. By Monday, he was promising to call for a new plan. On Sunday, he already had a plan. On Monday, he wanted Republicans to help him write one.

Specific proposals? Here's how the New York Times was briefed for Monday's paper.

In his remarks...Mr. Obama will not offer details but will set deficit-cutting goals, White House officials said. The numbers were still under discussion on Sunday.

Deficit-cutting goals. That's bold. Numbers still under discussion. Were there no such discussions before the budget was submitted?

You can see Obama's problem. Either he declares his own budget completely inadequate, as of course it was, which makes him look incompetent. (Obviously, if he had wanted to follow the Bowles-Simpson approach, as he should, he could have said so months ago, and the budget could have sought to implement it.) Or he stands by his do-nothing budget, adds some new rhetorical flourishes, and calls for more co-operation, in which case the failure-to-lead charge sticks. He ought to take a chance and do the first, but I expect he will feel his dignity cannot stand it, so he will try to split the difference. In any event, I'm looking forward to the speech.

Meanwhile here is a column for the Financial Times which says that the US government's inability to govern is becoming a something of a problem. It also argues that the Ryan budget is no help at all.

Drop-down bar thumbnail credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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