The Political Strategy of Obama's $4 Trillion Deficit Plan

The plan is aimed squarely at the middle class voters who'll decide 2012

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Shortly after president Obama'd $4.4 trillion deficit reduction plan leaked to the press Sunday, the Republicans assailed it as "class warfare," setting the stage for a tenacious political battle in the run-up to the November 2012 elections. Whether the plan can pass is a big "if," but that's not necessarily the point: it includes a number of populist measures that poll well, such as a millionaire's tax, and forces Republicans to make politically dangerous arguments against slashing Social Security. Here's why it makes for smart politics.

It will fire up his base, write Carrie Budoff Brown and Jennifer Epstein at Politico: "Suffering an erosion of support from the broad coalition that elected him, Obama has crafted a plan that reads more like a blueprint for shoring up his restless Democratic base than a vehicle for reaching across the aisle in search of bipartisan compromise." The plan's nods to the left include not cutting from Social Security, threatening to veto any bill that "takes on dime" from Medicare benefits, and not increasing the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, ideas that were floated to Boehner during the summer's deficit talks.

It may win over the middle class, write Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake at The Washington Post, noting that it's targeted at the middle class who "without question" are "the swing vote of the 2012 presidential election":

Households with incomes between $30,000 and $99,000 — our working, if broad, definition of the middle class — comprised 55 percent of the electorate in the 2008 election and will likely represent a similar share in 2012. Winning that group then becomes of paramount importance to Obama’s chances. And at a time when many members of the middle class are feeling more and more squeezed economically, the idea of getting the wealthy to pay more will seem to many of them like a political no-brainer.

The plan's math is cleverly deceptive, writes Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Though certainly not praising the bill's cost-cutting measures, he notes that its questionable math may fly under the radar of voters. He links to a piece in The Hill noting:

The $3 trillion in deficit reduction is made up of money saved from ending the war in Iraq and drawing down in Afghanistan, raising taxes for the wealthy and corporations and cutting about $540 billion in Medicare and Medicaid, administration officials said Sunday night.

"I get that this isn’t so much a plan as a campaign strategy," he writes. "The idea is to get a promise to raise taxes in exchange for spending 'cuts' achieved by ending two wars when they’re planned to end and some Medicare savings that will begin toward the end of the next presidential term and phase in over the next two terms after that? Sweet."

It polls really well Cillizza and Blake note that "In a July Washington Post/ABC poll, 72 percent of those tested supported raising taxes on those making $250,000 or more as a means of reducing the debt. And, in an August CNN poll, 62 percent said taxes on the wealthy should be kept high 'so the government can use their money for programs to help lower-income people.' In our 50-50 political world, those numbers are as close as you can get to a political slam dunk."

Regardless, it will be a tenacious fight says NPR's Scott Horsely: "If the left digs in and says you can't touch Medicare" and other entitlement programs and "the right digs in and says you can't raise taxes ... it's going to be a long and unproductive 14 months."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.