Bill Keller Vs. Bill Keller On Obama's “Balanced” Deficit Plan

Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent has meticulously dismantled New York Times columnist Bill Keller's March 3 piece laying blame for the sequester at President Obama's feet, noting that one of Keller's key arguments -- that Obama campaigned in 2012 “on poll-tested tax hikes alone” -- is flatly untrue. Obama spent almost all of 2012 promoting a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction that included tax increases on the wealthy and spending cuts, as Sargent documented. And at the time, Obama's deficit-reduction campaign message caught the eye of... Bill Keller, who wrote in October 2012 that an Obama second term would see “a gradual, balanced attack on deficits that includes higher taxes on the wealthiest.”

Keller's October 28, 2012, column for the Times pushed back hard against the complaint voiced by journalists and commentators that Obama and Mitt Romney each lacked an agenda. “There are plenty of legitimate reasons voters (and the media) should be disenchanted by the candidates and the campaign,” Keller wrote, “but the idea that we'll be voting in the dark is not one of them.”

Here's what Keller said to expect from a reelected President Obama:

With Obama, we can anticipate that the unfinished business of universal health care and the re-regulation of the Wall Street casino will be finished. We can expect investments in education, infrastructure and innovation, followed by a gradual, balanced attack on deficits that includes higher taxes on the wealthiest. (And this time he will have a hefty stick to apply to a recalcitrant Congress: the fiscal cliff, which forces Congress to compromise or share the blame for the ensuing havoc.) We can expect the Pentagon, after winding down two wars, to bank a peace dividend. If Obama is re-elected, especially if he is elected with substantial Latino support, we can expect that he will try to deliver on his postponed promise of comprehensive immigration reform. The fact that these objectives represent a continuation of his first term does not mean he is aiming low. These are ambitious goals.

He even cited the Obama campaign's release of “a 20-page booklet of its intentions,” which was “dismissed in my own newspaper for containing 'no new proposals.'” That booklet was one of the many, many Obama campaign materials promoting “a balanced approach to reducing the deficit,” and highlighted Obama's plan to cut the deficit “by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, including $1 trillion in spending cuts he signed into law last summer, and cutting $2.50 in spending for every $1 in additional revenue from the wealthiest families and closing corporate loopholes.” [page 13]

In 2012, Keller knew Obama was pushing a “balanced” deficit plan and even described it as such. Now he's saying Obama campaigned exclusively on tax increases in order to whack the president for failing to lead -- not only getting the facts wrong but contradicting himself in the process. The irony here is that Keller's October 2012 column was meant to rebut the lazy, incorrect thinking from reporters and pundits that led them to push bogus narratives instead of laying out the facts.