For over a year, the White House has been laying a trap, attempting to
force Republicans into embracing entitlement reforms so that President
Obama and Democrats would have a giant target to attack. But with the
release of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget today, that strategy could
The White House strategy dates back to at least January 2010, when
Obama singled out Ryan at a House Republican retreat, referencing his
bold “Roadmap for America’s Future” fiscal reform plan that would
overhaul entitlements. Though the plan was little known outside of
Washington policy circles before then, it soon became a focal point
for Democratic attacks.
For much of last year, Obama and his allies taunted Republicans,
alternatively, either for embracing Ryan’s plan or running away from
it. The White House hoped to goad the Republican leadership into
adopting its ideas.
No doubt, Obama’s political team is foaming at the mouth in excitement
now that their strategy has paid off, and the House GOP’s official
budget, authored by Ryan, contains major reforms to Medicare and
But this could be a major miscalculation on the White House’s part.
The problem Obama faces is that he himself has said that current
entitlement costs are unsustainable. “I refuse to pass this problem on
to another generation of Americans," he declared in his 2010 State of
the Union Address, in which he established a bipartisan Fiscal
Commission. For a whole year, whenever he was asked about long-term
deficits, he’d point out that he was waiting for the commission to
report back. Yet ultimately, he ignored their proposals and produced
an unserious budget that did not address entitlements. Obama was able
to get away with it as long as Republicans offered only rhetoric and
symbolic measures, but no serious proposals to do anything about the
Yet whether you agree or disagree with his approach, it’s clear that
Ryan’s budget is a serious deficit-reduction plan that grapples with
the problem. If Obama responds to Ryan with his own deficit reduction
plan that confronts entitlements, his liberal base will go apoplectic.
Yet if he doesn’t offer anything, then all his talk about being the
kind of president who would set politics aside to deal with the
nation’s challenges looks even more empty than it already does.
In 2012, as Obama is up for reelection, the federal deficit is slated
to be $1.1 trillion, according to the White House’s own estimates. If
he is opposing Ryan’s budget, but not offering any serious
counter-proposal of his own, he’ll have his work cut out for him. And
this time, it’ll be hard to skate by simply by blaming George W. Bush.