Obama seeks 2012 victory via debt talks

Neil Munro White House Correspondent

President Barack Obama continues his two-front media campaign with a White House press conference at 11.00 a.m. Monday.

Washington’s myriad political advocates will be watching, but so too will many of the nation’s swing-voting independents, whose support he needs to win back by November 2012.

The press event will take place before Obama and GOP leaders meet again on Monday to talk about a debt-ceiling deal that will allow the federal government to continue as usual.

He’s likely to use the press conference to repeat his calls for a complex $4 trillion, ten-year debt-ceiling package that combines some as-yet-unexplained mix of tax increases, accounting shifts, program changes and spending cuts.

Republican leaders rejected that proposal on Sunday, saying it would require yet more tax increases. GOP leaders want a simpler and smaller deal that offsets $2 trillion of new borrowing with a similar amount of budget cuts.

But it makes political sense for Obama to continue calling for a big deal. (Sunday debt talks wrap up with plans to meet again Monday)

If Obama’s package is approved, its tax increases would likely split the GOP some 17 months before the pivotal 2012 election, and the package’s enormous scale would help his allies portray him to swing voters as the president who mended the nation’s bleeding finances.

“The American people sent us here to do the right thing not for party, but for country,” he said in a July 8 Rose Garden response to the bad news that unemployment had ticked up to 9.2 percent. “So we’re going to work together to get things done on their behalf. That’s the least that they should expect of us, not the most that they should expect of us.”

If the president’s $4 trillion package stays rejected, and is supplanted by a simpler $2 trillion deal, the president can still cast himself as the only adult in Washington D.C.

“I’ve heard reports that there may be some in Congress who want to do just enough to make sure that America avoids defaulting on our debt in the short term, but then wants to kick the can down the road when it comes to solving the larger problem of our deficit,” he declared at the start of a July 5 press conference.

“I don’t think the American people sent us here to avoid tough problems,” he continued. “That’s, in fact, what drives them nuts about Washington, when both parties simply take the path of least resistance … I believe that right now we’ve got a unique opportunity to do something big — to tackle our deficit in a way that forces our government to live within its means, that puts our economy on a stronger footing for the future, and still allows us to invest in that future.”

One of Obama’s senior advisers, David Plouffe, explained the strategy at a June 7 press event organized by Bloomberg News. Obama can win the independents, he said, because they dislike partisan disputes and prefer Washington to “get away from the stale ideas of the left or right and focus on what’s going to be right for the country.” (Boehner says ambitious $4 trillion deal isn’t happening)

Obama will need whatever boost he can get, because he’s now down to 32 percent among independents, when tested head-to-head against a “Generic Republican,” according to a Gallup poll of 914 registered voters in early June. In 2008, he got 52 percent of those voters. The “Generic Republican” earned 42 percent of the independents’ votes. A quarter of the independents, or 26 percent, declined to pick Obama or the “Generic Republican.”

There’s no political downside to Obama’s two-front strategy, assuming a deal is eventually signed to prevent the federal government from defaulting on its $14 trillion debt.

Since Obama has not personally pointed the presidential finger at any significant programs that deserve cutting, there’s no political risk either. His deputies have provided the media with a vague mix of possible cuts, such as an accounting change to Social Security, a round of unexplained cuts within the huge Medicare program, or deep but unassigned cuts in Pentagon spending. But the president has not put his name to any detailed proposal that would actually slash a program cherished by his allies.

There’s no political risk to the two-front campaign because Obama’s liberal base is still supporting him, although not as enthusiastically as it did during the halcyon days of 2008 and 2009. The Gallup poll says 81 percent of Democrats are on his side, although 13 percent declined to declare their support.

Only seven percent of Democrats say they’ll support a Republican, and 9 percent of Republicans say they’ll support Obama, says Gallup’s poll.

Liberals and progressives will support him in November 2012 because their dislike of any GOP candidate is much greater than their disappointment in President Obama’s tenure.

Obama’s economic policy is in a shambles, unemployment and debt are rising, his agencies need more loans to stay open, the debt talks are stalled, the GOP won’t raise taxes, and his administration could potentially be stumbling toward a humiliating default. Nonetheless, the president’s re-election campaign is still running strong.

Watch still no resolution in debt ceiling negotiations: