President Obama will not release his full budget proposal until Wednesday. Nevertheless, lawmakers and interest groups on both sides of the political spectrum are already pissed.
For those of us who were hoping to see the president make a good faith effort at fostering compromise, this is promising news. We should all cheer any budget proposal that raises the hackles of all the following groups: the Senate's only self-described socialist (Bernie Sanders), House Republicans, Moveon.org, and the AARP. The moans of pain audible from Washington's political poles is a reminder of just how long it has been since either side experienced the pain of, you know, compromising.
Here is what we know from the strategic leaks coming from the White House: President Obama is proposing to reform Social Security by employing something called "chain-weighted CPI," the consumer price index that tracks inflation. (Read a primer on chained CPI here.) Essentially, the White House believes that chain weighting CPI will slash the budget by roughly $230 billion over a decade. (That's roughly $130 billion in spending cuts to entitlement programs plus roughly $100 billion in additional tax revenue.)
Naturally, Republicans are angry that the president's proposal raises taxes. John Boehner and Eric Cantor argue, essentially, that if the president thinks the entitlement reform proposals included in his budget are in fact wise public policy, then the White House ought not condition their inclusion in the budget on proposed tax hikes — or anything else.
Meanwhile, liberal groups like Moveon.org thinks President Obama is a sellout for even considering cuts to entitlement programs at all. In their view, Barack Obama is a liberal Democrat and, in light of the fact that Democrats control the Senate, these groups do not understand why the president would even think of compromising with the GOP, especially when it comes to their beloved entitlements. According to the Wall Street Journal, Bernie Sanders and members of AARP are also amongst those who are less than pleased about the proposed change.
The haters on both sides ought to be ignored, however. GOP leaders are well aware that the president is not going to grant the GOP these entitlement tweaks without getting something in return. This is, after all, professional politics, and President Obama represents a party that likes higher taxes and hates entitlement cuts. Meanwhile, liberal groups like Moveon.org are even more irrational if they think the president of the United States can, with a straight face, propose a budget that does nothing to even signal that he is serious about addressing out-of-control entitlement spending.
In the past, President Obama has talked a lot about being willing to compromise — before ultimately getting cold feet and backing away. For that reason, we will need to see whether he walks the walk in actual budget negotiations before anyone can definitively say that the post-partisan adult that we have so long heard about has finally arrived in the capital.
But for now, it's a good sign that the president has so many people pissed off at him. Any serious and worthy budget deal will involve pain for everyone. This isn't (or at least should not be) about "winning," after all. Instead, it is about finding shared solutions to our very large and pressing fiscal problems. So bravo, Mr. President. Keep making everyone angry, and you might yet solve a few problems before you have to leave 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.