The White House communications operation has expended considerable effort over the past week to portray President Obama as serious about dealing with debt and deficits. Most of their scrambling came after House Budget chairman Paul Ryan presented a 2012 budget blueprint that included significant entitlement reform proposals. A White House statement noted the president “strongly disagrees” with many of the particulars of Ryan’s plan, and so today the president is presenting his own ideas.
At a press conference on February 15, the day after the president released the first version of his budget, Obama defended his 2012 budget proposal and deflected criticism that his unwillingness to tackle entitlement reform demonstrated a lack of leadership. The president cannot solve these problems on his own, Obama argued. “We're going to have to have a spirit of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans. And I think that's possible. I think that's what the American people are looking for.”
Obama cited the recommendations of his deficit commission and noted that not all of its participants signed on to the final recommendations. And Obama promised to reach out to one of them – the Republican point man on entitlement reform, Paul Ryan. “What's also true is, for example, is, is that the chairman of the House Republican budgeteers didn't sign on. He's got a little bit of juice when it comes to trying to get an eventual budget done, so he's got concerns. So I'm going to have to have a conversation with him, what would he like to see happen.”
If the president were truly interested in a “spirit of cooperation,” such a conversation would seem a logical place to start. After all, Ryan has spent the better part of the past decade studying America’s fiscal health and more than anyone in Congress has proposed serious solutions to avert the coming debt crisis.
So how did their conversation go?
It never happened. A spokesman for Ryan confirms that there has been no call since the president said he would reach out on February 15.
If that’s a sign of Obama’s commitment to a “spirit of cooperation,” it’s not a good one.