Obama budget: A useful exercise in political theater?

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I’ve been watching with a mixture of disdain and wonder the release and public flagellation of President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal. Disdain mostly because a Democratic President actually just proposed cutting benefits to current Social Security recipients (along with the rest of us, when we get there) through this Chained CPI bullpucky, and wonder because of what a brutally aggressive political gambit it represents.

I’ll explain. For one thing, Obama’s budget has zero chance of becoming law. We know this. He knows this. Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi know this. None whatsoever. Perhaps this is an optimistic reading of the circumstances here, but I think that’s part of the point of this exercise. The things that President Obama proposed in this budget are the very things the Republican Party demanded in return for additional tax revenue to close the budget deficit (despite Social Security contributing exactly zero dollars to the deficit. I digress). At the same time, Obama knows that McConnell and Boehner will never, ever, ever agree to any compromise at all, let alone one that involves additional tax revenue on top of what Obama already achieved in December. So by offering them exactly what they wanted with the foreknowledge that they will never accept it in any real way, he’s forcing them once again (and again, and again) to own their right-wing, reactionary agenda in front of a public that, if memory serves, recently rejected that crap by a pretty huge margin.

Is this proposal a good thing? No, of course not. It doesn’t do enough to push renewable energy production or rapid transit options or a host of other priorities, especially in light of a still-fragile economy. But with divided government, we really have two options: publicly moan about how mean and nasty the other side is, or beat the other side over the head with their own intransigence until they either submit, or the voting public turns them out on their ear and demands progress. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell are stuck with the first option, whether they like it or not. President Obama has apparently chosen the second option. The progressive movement must keep up the fight to protect Social Security and Medicare, and make sure public opinion stays on our side. At the same time, we need to help keep the focus where it needs to be through the 2014 elections: on a right-wing political party that has effectively broken our national political discourse, and does not deserve to be anywhere near the levers of power.