Obama wants to make Boehner an offer he can't accept 

In his just-completed news conference, President Obama continued to push for a a long-term deal to reduce the debt, but it's hard to take his new found desire to tackle our long-term fiscal challenges as being sincere. As much as he talked in the abstract about his willingness to make tough choices that put him at odds with his own party, Obama refused to get into actual specifics about what types of cuts to entitlement spending he would actually accept.

"I'm not going to get into the details of negotiations," Obama said when asked about what he would do about Social Security.

This is clearly part of a broader communications strategy. On the Sunday shows yesterday, Chief of Staff Bill Daley and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner both talked about how Obama didn't want to kick the can down the road and was ready to cut a big deal that put everything on the table, but they also declined to get specific.

Here was Geithner on NBC's "Meet the Press" with David Gregory:

MR. GREGORY: Be clear about this, Mr. Secretary: Is the president willing to cut Medicare benefits in order to get this deal?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: The president is willing , he said this from the beginning, as part of a balanced, long-term budget agreement that gets our arms around this problem, brings this deficit down over, down over time in a balanced way, we have to try to find ways to get more savings across the government , including...

MR. GREGORY: No, but I'm asking you a specific question.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: No, including Medicare and Medicaid .

MR. GREGORY: You said that before. OK, but what...

SEC'Y GEITHNER: And our, and our...

MR. GREGORY: ... what would you do on Medicare ?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We, we will find ways, and we proposed very specific things in these talks that to get more savings in this program, but what we're not going to do is do this in a way that shifts more of the burden...

MR. GREGORY: I get it. But...

SEC'Y GEITHNER: ...to the middle class Americans .

MR. GREGORY: ...cutting benefits or not cutting benefits ?

SEC'Y GEITHNER: We're, we're going to find the most sensible ways to get more savings for those programs without adding to the, to the burdens on middle class families and the elderly that they face today. But -- yeah, well...

MR. GREGORY: But I -- you're not really saying anything there because you either cut benefits or you don't, or you means test or you don't, or you raise the retirement age or you don't.

SEC'Y GEITHNER: David , I'm -- I don't get to negotiate that with you. It would be fun, maybe we could work it out . And I 'm not going to tell you what a deal's going to have to require in the end. But I'll tell you the, the following important things. Democrats and this president are willing to do very hard things politically, but only as part of a deal that's balanced...

If Obama put specific cuts to Medicare and Social Security on the table that he was willing to talk about publicly, I'd be more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. But how can we believe that Obama is "willing to do very hard things politically" if he can't even say what they are?

A more realistic interpretation of Obama's intentions is that he very much wants to create the public appearance that he's ready to take on liberal "sacred cows" and cut spending, while pushing for a deal that includes massive tax increases that he knows House Speaker John Boehner cannot accept. Thus, when Republicans attack his atrocious fiscal record during next year's election, he can say, "I offered Republicans the chance to tackle our long-term debt problem, but they refused so that they could protect tax loopholes for millionaires and billionaires."

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Philip Klein

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