Obama helps ’12 bid with concessions in debt deal

Political observers could not help but notice that many provisions of the compromise debt deal, such as postponing nearly all spending cuts until 2013 and boosting student aid next year, are tailor-made for President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

“Politically, I actually think the president did very well here,” said former Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, adding that the deal should affect the president’s re-election chances “hugely.”

Prior to the agreement, Republicans had four main points of attack against Mr. Obama — jobs, debt, deficits and spending, Mr. Gregg said. The deal, which would trim future spending by at least $917 billion, gives Mr. Obama room to argue that he is fiscally responsible.

“He’s taken three of those four issues off the table, or at least muted them,” said Mr. Gregg, who proposed a debt-reduction commission with Sen. Kent Conrad, North Dakota Democrat, in 2009. “He’s gotten a political win.”

The tentative agreement puts off another battle over the nation’s borrowing limit until after the 2012 election and allows Mr. Obama “to claim that he’s moving to the center,” said Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the Cato Institute. The president’s repeated efforts to portray himself as an honest broker seeking compromise between Democrats and Republicans have been aimed in part at winning over crucial independent voters next year.

Many Democrats reacted with bitterness to the president’s support of a deal that includes spending cuts but no new tax revenue for now. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, Missouri Democrat and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, called the agreement “a sugarcoated Satan sandwich.” Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s presidential campaign in 2000, said on her Twitter account: “The GOP won the debate by playing quick & loose w/the truth. Bullying everyone, incl media. Stonewalling. Arrogance. This was unnecessary.”

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that Mr. Obama insisted on an agreement that lasts through 2012 because of the economic benefit it will bring.

“This agreement ensures that the debt ceiling will be extended through 2012, removing that cloud of uncertainty from the economy,” he said.

Mr. Carney added that liberals should accept Mr. Obama’s motives for striking a bargain with the GOP, arguing that deficit reduction will lead to an improved economy and more jobs.

“The president of the United States believes that deficit reduction is important,” Mr. Carney said. “It is a positive thing for Democrats. Progressives need to understand, and we think that most obviously do, that deficit reduction is essential.”

At the Capitol, Vice President Joseph R. Biden said the extension of the debt ceiling through 2012 “has nothing to do with elections.”

“It has to do with now, from the moment this passes — if it passes and it is signed into law — we will be talking … about jobs,” Mr. Biden said.

As the fine points of the agreement were debated in Congress on Monday, many conservatives were dubious about the proposed savings. Mr. Edwards said the $21 billion in cuts for fiscal 2012 “are not real cuts” but reductions from the spending base line set by the Congressional Budget Office in March.

Several Republican candidates for president came out against the plan, mindful of conservatives’ opposition to it. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the deal “opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican and a tea party favorite, said the proposal doesn’t cut spending enough. “The president continues to press for a ‘balanced approach,’ which everyone knows is code for increased spending and taxes,” she said.

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