On Wednesday afternoon, President Obama is delivering what's billed as a major speech on reducing the long-term federal deficit, and in a rare scenario for Washington, nobody's sure what he'll say. Conflicting news reports and deliberately cryptic hints from the White House have shed little light on Obama's deficit plan, prompting ever more intense speculation among commentators. Here, six predictions:
1. Obama will propose raising taxes on the rich
It's almost inevitable, says Michael Crowley in TIME, that Obama will want to end Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy. If so, that's "the best news we've had in a while" from this president, says Susie Madrak in Suburban Guerrilla. But tax hikes are a "nonstarter" for the GOP, say Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush in Politico, and would open Obama to a "huge hit" when Republicans tag him as "a big spending, Big Government liberal."
2. Focus on cutting defense spending
If he's looking for common ground with Republicans, Obama will "tackle the bloated defense budget," says Ben Armbruster at ThinkProgress. And there's plenty of room for cuts. Worldwide, America accounts for 43 percent of all military spending. Second-place China accounts for just 7.3 percent of the global total.
3. Outflank the GOP from the right
The obvious thing for Obama to do is "to come at [Rep. Paul] Ryan and the GOP mainly from the left, demagoguing their plan to 'cut' Medicare to pay for tax cuts for the top" earners, says Matt Miller in The Washington Post. But a "shrewder, debate-transforming move would be to outflank the GOP on the right" by proposing to balance the budget in this generation, not decades into the future, as Ryan proposes. Obama can zero the deficit by 2018 if he ditches the Bush tax cuts and slashes spending.
4. Embrace his deficit commission's report
Instead of "[blazing] a fresh path," The Washington Post says, Obama will promote the plan proposed by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, chairmen of his bipartisan deficit-reduction panel. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) added credence to this prediction, calling "the basic approach of Bowles-Simpson... an important starting point." Terrible idea, says Paul Krugman in The New York Times. This conservative-leaning proposal raises the retirement age and is short on details for controlling Medicare costs. By "more or less" endorsing it, Obama would "define the center as being somewhere between the right and the far right."
5. Subvert his deficit commission's report
The liberal "freak-out" over Bowles-Simpson is a little premature, says Steve Benen in Washington Monthly. Van Hollen was merely endorsing the plan's "basic approach," a combination of raising taxes and cutting spending, "which is the standard Democratic line." Plus, Obama has shown no love for the plan so far, says Ed Morrissey in Hot Air, so why would "anyone believe he'd stick with the cuts [that] Simpson-Bowles demands" now?
6. Endorse the Senate "Gang of Six"
Obama won't directly embrace Bowles-Simpson, but he'll reportedly "get behind the Senate's bipartisan Gang of Six," which has been working on its own plan for months, says Dan Amira in New York. "Backing the Gang of Six will give Obama plenty of bipartisan cover, something he always would prefer but which is especially vital on the prickly issues of entitlement and tax reform." One problem: They don't have a plan yet. The other: "The last thing that the gang wants, at this stage, is a presidential endorsement," say Politico's Budoff Brown and Thrush.