White House reporter Jackie Calmes seemed to like President Obama's new combative pose over his new big-spending, tax-hiking 'stimulus' proposal. Her lead story Tuesday, 'Obama Confirms New Hard Stand With Debt Relief,' framed the political battle as a personal conflict as a disrespected president betrayed by House Speaker John Boehner once too often.
With a scrappy unveiling of his formula to rein in the nation's mounting debt, President Obama confirmed Monday that he had entered a new, more combative phase of his presidency, one likely to last until next year's election as he battles for a second term.
Faced with falling poll numbers for his leadership and an anxious party base, Mr. Obama did not just propose but insisted that any long-term debt-reduction plan must not shave future Medicare benefits without also raising taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers and corporations.
He uncharacteristically backed up that stand with a veto threat, setting up a politically charged choice for anti-tax Republicans - protect the most affluent or compromise to attack deficits. Confident in the answers most voters would make, Mr. Obama plans to hammer on that choice through 2012, reflecting the fact that the White House has all but given up hopes of a 'grand bargain' with Republicans to restore fiscal balance for years to come.
Calmes as usual avoided the potent word 'cuts' to describe Obama's proposed decreases in projected Medicare spending, even though a headline in the same paper over a story by Robert Pear reads: 'Obama Proposes $320 Billion in Medicare and Medicaid Cuts Over 10 Years.' Instead she massaged the message with softer terms like "subtracting" and "savings."
Mr. Obama's plan to reduce annual deficits up to $4 trillion over a decade does call for subtracting $320 billion from Medicare and Medicaid, building on savings required in his health care law.
But those proposals are far from the overhaul and reductions that Republicans are demanding in the two popular entitlement programs, whose growth because of the aging of the population and ever-rising medical costs is driving the long-term projections of unsustainable debt.
Calmes cherry-picked her evidence to point the blame for lack of bipartisanship toward Republican House Speaker John Boehner for 'walking out on Obama' and 'Mr. Boehner's humiliating public rejection of Mr. Obama's requested date for an address to a joint session of Congress,' ignoring the fact that Obama's request came on the same night as a G.O.P. presidential debate. Calmes also avoids the L-word in talking about Obama's big-spending, tax-hiking plans, using a euphemism: '...Mr. Obama must solidify support among Democrats by standing pat for progressive party principles...'
Examining the issue through White House eyes, Calmes saw the G.O.P. and only the G.O.P. as the stubborn, unyielding party.
But the White House does not expect Republicans to do so. Indeed, Mr. Obama's new tack in pressing the deficit-reduction framework and $447 billion jobs-creation plan that he wants - not trimmed to draw Republicans' votes - reflects the conclusion he has drawn from the past 10 months: Republicans will oppose almost anything he proposes, even tax cuts. And Mr. Boehner is unable to deliver his uncompromisingly anti-tax Republicans for any compromise that includes tax revenues.
Mr. Obama believed he had built a good working relationship with Mr. Boehner based on a shared desire for a deal modeled on proposals of past bipartisan panels, which called for a mix of new revenues and changes in entitlement programs.
But their relationship was severely strained after Mr. Boehner abandoned their budget talks in July, came back and then walked out a second time. And after what the White House saw as a third strike this month - Mr. Boehner's humiliating public rejection of Mr. Obama's requested date for an address to a joint session of Congress - the Obama team called Mr. Boehner out.
Journalist Calmes didn't bother to lay out Boehner's side of the story, so here it is: At a news conference after walking out of the second round of debt ceiling talks in late July 2010, Boehner said 'Dealing with the White House is like dealing with a bowl of Jell-O. It's the president who walked away from his agreement and demanded more money at the last minute.'