Pretty soon, the budget battle narrative will kick into gear, depicting Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget plan as the work of someone "serious" and "courageous." One big factor is the media's inability to come to grips with some basic tenets of the plan: it will raise taxes on the majority of Americans, as well as phase out Medicare and eliminate Medicaid, thus spreading the debt around to your household as your elderly loved ones sicken and die. But another key factor is that the White House doesn't seem willing to fill the "seriousness and courage gap" with any seriousness or courageousness of its own.
Let's go to today's press gaggle, and marvel at how White House Press Secretary Jay Carney just doesn't seem to have anything to say about the hotly anticipated rollout of Paul Ryan's plan:
Q: Do you have any initial reaction to Congressman Ryan's budget proposal?
MR. CARNEY: Why don't we do that after -- for the later briefing, because we want to -- we do need to, as a country, as the responsible parties in government, to move on to the process of the fiscal year 2012 budget and beyond. The President very much looks forward to that. As you know, he proposed his own budget a number of months ago. But we have to get this work done as well.
Q: Are you not likely to comment on it until the CR is --
MR. CARNEY: Well, no, I just -- first of all, it hasn't come out. Obviously there's been an op-ed and a lot of information about it -- or maybe -- I thought it was coming out at noon, but I haven't had a chance to review it and get out my calculator, and so I don't want to -- why don't I wait for the afternoon briefing on that.
Q: Does the President plan to offer a counterproposal, and when does he plan on the Ryan -- on the entitlement debate? When does he plan to enter that debate in a sort of sustained personal way?
MR. CARNEY: I'm looking for the President's strategy on fiscal -- oh, it's not here. So I -- no, seriously, I don't want to start talking about that this morning, but I will address questions on that this afternoon.
It's really hard to fathom. There's nothing to be said about a proposal that's been kicking around Washington in some skeletal form for months now? The fact that the Ryan plan would gut Medicare and Medicaid after the GOP defamed the Affordable Care Act as a "raid" on these programs isn't even worth an ironic sigh?
And despite the fact that it's a critical part to the looming government shutdown, Carney isn't able to comment on how the White House views the House GOP's $12 trillion-in-cuts stopgap. This is odd, considering the fact that Congressional Democrats already plan to reject the measure, and Congressional Republicans say that the White House plans to oppose it as well:
Q: Yes, you're not commenting on this one-week stopgap measure, but on the Hill, Republicans, including Eric Cantor, have said that the White House has rejected the measure. And I'm wondering where the difference is here. Have you not rejected the measure outright?
MR. CARNEY: Again, Sam, I'm not commenting on it. I'm not aware of any communications --
Q: Well, they're already saying you rejected it.
MR. CARNEY: Well, did he say who told him that?
Q: He said he -- according to my report on the Hill, they said that they've confirmed that they heard from the White House that they rejected this.
MR. CARNEY: Well, what I'm saying, Sam, is that we are having a meeting here today, that has probably already begun, to discuss the need to reach an agreement on the full remainder of fiscal year 2011, that it is not necessary to continue a process of short-term measures when an agreement is within reach and when we've had a target figure, and the parameters of that agreement are on the table and some choices just have to be made and we can reach this agreement and get on to the bigger issues that face us.
Q: So you can't confirm or deny --
MR. CARNEY: I'm not -- I'm not going to -- no, I'm not going to confirm or deny what we may or may not do in the future.
Q: But it's not what you're going to do, it's what you have done. What they're saying is last night you told them that you will not accept the one-week stopgap.
MR. CARNEY: Yes --
Q: Democrats are saying the same --
MR. CARNEY: Well, look, I -- what we have said is that it is not necessary and not acceptable to continue to create a tollbooth where you have to pay to keep the government going every two weeks, one week, three weeks. That remains our position. It is counterproductive, we think, to assume that we have to negotiate a short-term CR when we have an agreement on the table that can be reached for the full fiscal year.
The "agreement that can be reached," by the way, is $73 billion in cuts that the White House views as the reasonable middle ground position between what the GOP wants and what they might want, should they actually want something, which isn't entirely clear. The overall path appears to be a continuation of the "governing by giving up the gun" style that was cemented when the White House accepted the premise that job growth wasn't possible without extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. It makes you wonder what, exactly, the White House plans on campaigning on for the next two years, beyond new serif fonts.
UPDATE: President Barack Obama addressed the White House Press Corps today, and didn't have much to say about the Ryan rollout or the stopgap proposal that's been floated by Speaker of the House John Boehner. Instead, Obama reiterated that Democrats are ready to match the $73 billion figure that the GOP has proposed themselves, and characterized the gulf between the two parties as ideological.
Obama essentially begged off discussing the budget plan that was introduced by House Republicans today, citing the need to settle last year's budget and promising a future debate on the merits of future budgets. As to any short-term stopgaps, Obama was more forthcoming, stating that he wasn't likely to support such a measure. "It's no way to run a government," Obama said. He hedged only a little bit, suggesting that he'd be willing to support a "clean" two-or-three day extension for the purposes of finalizing paperwork.
After Obama's address to the press corps, Speaker Boehner offered his own comments to the media, and seemed resolute in fighting on the ideological territory that Obama wants all parties to cede for the sake of passing cuts. Boehner said that his membership would "continue to insist that the policy riders in HR 1 be on the table."
Jay Carney continues to take questions, so, developing.
Meanwhile, here's a comment from Kevin Drum that is particularly on point:
Maybe the power of the bully pulpit is overrated, but Obama seems unwilling to even try to move public opinion or take a leadership role in his own caucus. At this point, I really have no idea what he thinks of taxes, the deficit, Medicare cuts, or much of anything else on the domestic agenda. I guess he's figuring that if his political opponents insist on digging themselves into a hole, he might as well stand back and let them. But if he keeps this up much longer, there's going to be nothing left of his presidency except "Well, I guess he's better than the wingnuts from the other party." That may win him reelection, but it won't do much more.
Of course, after Drum pointed this out, Obama went to the trouble of appearing in front of the press corps. Whether or not he "used" the bully pulpit effectively enough to stake out a position other than "We don't want politics to interfere with the deal we're close to making," or shaping public opinion in any event, is obviously debatable.
FURTHER UPDATE: This is about as good as White House pushback is going to get, for the time being:
"The President believes that dramatically reducing America's long-term deficit is essential to growing our economy and winning the future," Carney said in a statement. "Any plan to reduce our deficit must reflect the American values of fairness and shared sacrifice. Congressman Ryan's plan fails this test."
I mean, sure. But is there nothing to say about the outlandish unemployment claims? The White House has been well and roundly castigated for missing their own rosy marks, and what Ryan's laid out is utterly unattainable.
Does the administration even recall their own Affordable Care Act? Per Jonathan Bernstein:
Indeed, looking through Paul Ryan’s budget document (which has a lot more rhetoric than it has hard numbers), I see at least two obvious causes for skepticism. The first is that Ryan is counting on considerable budget savings — $1.4 trillion over the decade — by repealing the Affordable Care Act. Of course, the CBO has said that ACA will be a net budget winner over the next decade, and a major winner after that. Is Ryan using honest CBO numbers, but just juggling the presentation? Or is he simply ignoring neutral evaluations of the effects of health care reform? Ryan couldn’t explain the numbers during his press conference today.