Is Obama Planning “Left Wing Austerity” for Second Term?

So, as everyone knows, after the next election, we face an immediate “fiscal cliff.”

If re-elected, President Barack Obama is expected to move quickly in November to nominate a new Treasury secretary, and that person could play a key role negotiating with Congress about the looming “fiscal cliff” of tax increases and spending cuts, people familiar with the planning said.

According to the Wall Street Journal, yesterday, one of the names being floated as Timothy Geithner’s replacement is Erskine Bowles, the White House Chief of Staff under Clinton.

Bowles has picked up some conservative street cred in the past few years. Perhaps it was because he said he liked Paul Ryan.

But Bowles made some important caveats. However nice it is to see signs of civilized behavior among politicians, we should remember that Bowles also said that he doesn’t agree with Ryan’s budget proposals. Just because he appreciates him does not mean that Bowles is going to develop or encourage a conservative budget.

Bowles is the co-chair with Alan Simpson of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, appointed by Obama in 2010, mostly to avoid having to make a decision. As a Boehner spokesman said, “Blue-ribbon commissions are fine and dandy, but we’re still waiting for a response from the president on our proposal to start cutting spending right now,”

From the Commission has come “the Simpson-Bowles plan” which has been treated as a centrist or center-right proposal. But that makes no sense. Slate Magazine’s Money Box blog pointed out that the content of the plan was far different than its reputation:

If you actually look at what the plan says, it becomes clear that this is about 85 percent about affect. As Suzy Khimm explains, as far as deficit reduction plans go, the Simpson-Bowles proposal is way to the left of anything Barack Obama’s put on the table. It’s much closer to being an American version of François Hollande’s left-wing austerity than a devious plot to gut the welfare state.

In a follow-up post: “Simpson-Bowles is conventionally framed as a deficit plan that’s to the right of where Obama is when in reality Simpson-Bowles is more aggressive in both raising taxes and cutting military spending than Obama has been.” Let me repeat the salient detail: Bowles wants higher taxes than the ones that Obama has been fighting for!

So it seems we are headed over a fiscal cliff and a plummet into four years of “left-wing austerity,” if Obama gets a second term. And if we only get taxes as high as those that Obama is currently proposing, we will be lucky. He may change his mind and follow the advice of Erskine Bowles.