White House Says It Will Compromise on the Budget By Doing Things It Has Already Agreed to Do


Credit: WhiteHouse.gov

For the past few years, the White House has previewed headline details about the administration's budget plan ahead of the release of the actual budget document. Reporters from major news outlets have been provided with key details, and, naturally, the talking points that go with them. Last year, the preview arrived on a Friday, with the full budget appearing the following Monday. This year, the previews once again began to spread on Friday. But the full budget didn't arrive until the Wednesday.

The one-two punch makes for a powerful messaging tactic, because it allows the administration to control the conversation about the budget for several days in advance of its actual release, and the longer the gap, the longer the administration has to spin. The administration gets to highlight what it wants about the budget, and because there's no other information available, the press dutifully repeats what the administration wants highlighted. Political opponents, meanwhile, have a somewhat tougher time responding to a budget that they haven't actually seen.

This year, the White House preview message seems to be that the administration is making a great effort to compromise with Republicans. The early information has highlighted President Obama's willingness to agree to change the way Social Security benefits are calculated, as various Medicare savings, the $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction the administration claims to achieve, and the tax carve outs it says it wants to close. Sure, the pitch seems to be, we're asking for additional tax revenue, but we're also making a good-faith effort to take on entitlements. We're compromising. Won't you Republicans do the same? The press has picked up on the idea. When The New York Times reported the initial details at the end of last week, it described the new budget as an effort by President Obama to "embody the final compromise offer that he made to Speaker John A. Boehner late last year."

So is the White House really making a meaningful effort to reach a compromise with this new budget? To answer in the affirmative, you have see some value in rehashing old policy offers. As the Times notes, the White House's offer here is basically just a rehash of what it's offered before. All the entitlement changes the administration has highlighted that could be considered compromises are policy ideas we've seen the administration put on the table before: The White House has previously indicated its willingness to accept reforms to Social Security's benefits calculations, to negotiate lower prices to drug companies and change the way Medicare pays for prescription medications for seniors also eligible for Medicaid. These aren't necessarily bad policies, but they also aren't really new offers, so the administration's affirmation that it is still willing to accept policies it previously said it would consider does not count for all that much.

Meanwhile, the administration has in recent months pulled back on entitlement changes it once said it would consider: Multiple reports have indicated that the White House has at various times said it might agree to raising Medicare's eligibility age; that policy not only didn't make it into the budget, it has been yanked from consideration entirely. And in February, the administration said that Medicaid reductions it once said it would discuss were no longer on the table. Despite what the messaging of the last few days has suggested, the White House isn't really expanding what it's willing to do to reach a deal with Republicans; if anything it is narrowing its list of acceptable compromises.