Parsing The Grand Bargain Promises

There are many fine passages in Obama’s speech tonight, of course. I would expect nothing less. He’s great at this stuff and I’m sure he fired up the base and brought over some undecideds too.

But you had to know that I was going to look at what he said about deficits. Here’s the main passage. It’s very interesting. He promised not to cut the safety net in return for tax cuts:

You can choose a future where we reduce our deficit without wrecking our middle class. Independent analysis shows that my plan would cut our deficits by $4 trillion. Last summer, I worked with Republicans in Congress to cut $1 trillion in spending – because those of us who believe government can be a force for good should work harder than anyone to reform it, so that it’s leaner, more efficient, and more responsive to the American people.

I want to reform the tax code so that it’s simple, fair, and asks the wealthiest households to pay higher taxes on incomes over $250,000 – the same rate we had when Bill Clinton was president; the same rate we had when our economy created nearly 23 million new jobs, the biggest surplus in history, and a lot of millionaires to boot.

Now, I’m still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission. No party has a monopoly on wisdom. No democracy works without compromise. But when Governor Romney and his allies in Congress tell us we can somehow lower our deficit by spending trillions more on new tax breaks for the wealthy – well, you do the math. I refuse to go along with that. And as long as I’m President, I never will.


I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions
for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut. I refuse to ask students to pay more for college; or kick children out of Head Start programs, or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly, or disabled – all so those with the most can pay less.

And I will never turn Medicare into a voucher. No American should ever have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and dignity they have earned. Yes, we will reform and strengthen Medicare for the long haul, but we’ll do it by reducing the cost of health care – not by asking seniors to pay thousands of dollars more. And we will keep the promise of Social Security by taking the responsible steps to strengthen it – not by turning it over to Wall Street.

There’s a lot of wriggle room in there, and quite a few straw men, but if you read it literally, he specifically promised not to slash those programs in exchange for tax cuts. What he didn’t do was promise not to cut those programs in exchange for tax hikes — which is what the Democrats are seeking.

He won’t agree to tax cuts for millionaires. That’s a good thing. But will he agree to cuts if the Republicans agree to raise some taxes? We don’t know. But we do know that David Koch’s on board with that.

I’m frankly a little bit non-plussed. He named student loans, Head Start, the mortgage interest deduction which I wouldn’t have thought would be on the menu. And maybe they aren’t. But if the line in the sand is “no tax cuts for millionaires,” all those things could theoretically be part of an agreement that raises taxes on millionaires.

Let’s hope this is just paranoid and that he actually promised outright to protect all these benefits. But the construction of the sentences is strange if that’s the case.

Stay tuned.

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