As the very quick negative response yesterday from the House GOP showed, the White House was never going to get even a reluctant, grudging admission from the Republicans that the Obama administration did something even marginally positive on the budget when it announced it’s new deficit reduction plan. After beginning their complaints on February 14th — the day the Obama 2012 budget was sent to Congress — that the White House wasn’t leading on fiscal issues, there was no expectation that House Republicans would do anything but drop the “refuses to lead” line and instead start using “we don’t like what he’s proposing” mantra.
That’s almost certainly why the GOP was not the intended or targeted audience for either the plan or the speech the president used to announce it. The targeted audience also didn’t seem to be the Democratic base. Even though there was likely to be (and, in fact, was) some grumbling on the far left about what Obama proposed and what he said it to propose it, recent polls show that Obama gets an 80 percent approval rating from registered-and-likely-to-vote members of his own party. There was, therefore, little need to try to improve that number.
So if the plan and speech were never going to win over Republicans and there was little value in trying to get additional Democrats, who or what was the real target? The answer is independents, the increasingly large percentage of American voters who don’t identify with either political party and the group that made the difference in the 2008 and 2010 elections.
In that context the plan and speech make a great deal of sense even if it’s not likely to change the outcome of this year’s debate. As Pete posted a day or so ago, the prospects for a deficit reduction plan being enacted this year may now be greater than they were when the week began, but they are still relatively small. In fact, as yesterday’s almost instantaneous and totally negative Republican response demonstrated, once the “we-have-a-plan-and-he-doesn’t” charge was muted, the budget debate almost immediately retrogressed to the same issues that have made it almost impossible for any deficit reduction plan to be considered seriously in recent years.
The fact that the Obama plan provided some fresh red meat for the GOP on revenues and military spending is the best indication that the White House wasn’t trying to appeal to it. Instead, the administration put out a plan that substantively was likely to appeal to the independents. Equally as important, the plan offered a process by which negotiations could begin. The president offered himself as a facilitator, convener, and expediter and, given the independents’ past dislike of how the sausage typically is made in Washington, this likely will appeal to them.
It will be especially important to watch the polls in the coming days, particularly any indication of of how independents actually feel about what the president proposed yesterday and how he proposed it, and whether their view of the GOP has changed. Significantly heightened approval by the independents could spur the GOP to come to the bargaining table a bit more aggressively.