Democrats were of course relieved by Obama's proposed deficit reduction plan, since they were concerned about him taking down the party with cuts to Medicare and Social Security. But they know it's only an opening gambit, one that's unlikely to be accepted by House Republicans -- and the real power now shifts to the Super Committee. The president, after all, is only promising to veto their agreement if they decide to cut Medicare without raising taxes on the wealthy. That's an opening you could drive a Mack truck through, and it's difficult to trust the man who played the public option shell game:
Even those who have traditionally urged moderation from Democratic politicians were complimentary about -- if not a touch emboldened by -- the president's new tone.
"It was an effective opening bid," said Matt Bennett, Senior Vice President for Public Affairs at the centrist-Democratic think tank Third Way. "He definitely planted a flag in the ground. He definitely communicated to his base and it was an opening bid in what is going to be a long negotiation."
The tone of an opening bid may, of course, change after a period of high-stakes negotiations. And while Bennett may be willing to stomach the compromise that will inevitably be struck, others were more nervous. The president's initial proposal, for example, leaves Social Security alone while calling for $240 billion in Medicare savings, including means-testing for additional areas of the program. Dean qualified such reforms as "not at all disabling," but other liberals saw a window opened.
"We don't feel like we can rest," said Nancy Altman, co-director of Social Security Works. "But from where we started ... this is a major improvement. We want to push him a little bit further so he really understands that Social Security is a pension plan and that it is not simply a negotiating tactic."
Clouding the response to Obama's debt reduction plan is the recollection that not too long ago, he offered Boehner a deal that would have changed Social Security's payment structure while raising the eligibility age for Medicare. Senior administration officials explained that those provisions weren't included in the current proposal because this plan reflects "his vision, and not a legislative compromise being crafted to garner some number of votes in the House and the Senate." But implicit in that statement is the recognition that Obama would be willing to make the same deal again, provided it could move a bill through Congress.
And yet, the political landscape now is drastically different than the one that existed during the peak of the debt ceiling negotiations. And it seems likely to change even further. Mike Lux, a progressive strategist who has been critical of the administration in the past (despite working for the president during his transition to the White House) argued that progressive groups have and continue to create "a magnetic pole ... that Obama is starting to move to." As the election nears, Lux and others argue, political realities will only further compel the president to both campaign on raising tax rates on very wealthy Americans and speak out against deep cuts to popular entitlement programs.