The President is using “the American people have a choice” language to describe the long-term budget debate. This is code for “We’ll leave this issue unresolved for now, fight about it during the campaign, and whoever wins the election gets their way.”
THE PRESIDENT: [W]hat I wanted to do yesterday, and I– I think I did successfully is to make very clear to the American people that we have a choice. We can’t get everything the government offers and not pay for it. And I think everybody agrees on that. And so, we have two choices. Either we don’t pay for it. In which case we have a– society that is not caring for our seniors the way it should, is not providing some basic security for people who really need it, and is not investing in the future. Or we can decide to continue on the path that has made us the greatest country on earth. Make those investments. Have a basic social safety net. And we can do it without hurting the middle class–
Thursday I argued this was an element of the President’s new budget strategy.
Normally the “American people have a choice” argument is sound logic. Elections have consequences, and it’s not unreasonable for a victorious President to invoke the election as a mandate for his agenda, just as it is reasonable for the new House Republican majority and larger Senate Republican minority to now be claiming that last November’s elections justify their aggressive efforts to cut spending.
What if, however, President Obama and House Republicans both win reelection in 2012? Can’t both then legitimately make that claim? In fact, since [House] Republicans are the ones who have placed their own reelection in jeopardy by taking a big political risk, if they win reelection, isn’t their claim even more valid?
There are so many variables affecting any election that it’s difficult to tease out what an election result actually means for any particular issue. This complexity notwithstanding, if both President Obama and House Republicans win in 2012, they have parallel arguments of comparable validity.
Even if you disagree, I am certain that both a newly-reelected President Obama and a newly-reelected Republican House would claim an electoral mandate for their policy agenda. I would expect both sides of the fiscal policy debate to be just as committed to and insistent upon their respective fiscal policy positions. In other words, we’d be right where we are now.
Today Intrade markets estimate a 60% chance that President Obama will be reelected, and a 57% chance Republicans will maintain control of the House. The election is so far out that these predictions are nearly meaningless, but they are roughly equal.
What happens if, thanks to the President’s “fight about the long run and win the election” strategy, we spend two years in stalemate and end up right back where we started?