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The Progressive Honeymoon Is Over

Obama trolls his base with his new budget.

Posted on April 5, 2013, at 4:26 p.m. ET

Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT

WASHINGTON — That spring in the step of progressives after President Obama mentioned climate change in his inaugural speech and the minimum wage in his State of the Union address is gone.

On Friday morning, the White House selectively released news of the president's next budget ahead of the new package's official rollout Wednesday. Progressives had braced themselves for disappointment, and they got it: President Obama's budget includes cuts to entitlement benefits that the left say are giving away the farm to Republicans eager to rollback the welfare state.

Progressives had the predictable reaction after the news came out, spitting out venomous press releases at Obama and generally throwing up their hands at the situation.

"I am quite concerned by reports that the forthcoming White House budget proposal might include chained CPI and other accommodations to Republicans determined to dismantle our social safety net and the progress our nation has made since the New Deal," Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, said in a release. "I must reiterate that I will never support any reductions in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits — and chained CPI is a direct reduction in Social Security benefits. Along with my fellow progressives, I will vehemently oppose any such cuts."

And that's a big part of the point. With Senate Democrats and House Republicans staking out strikingly different positions with their budgets, the White House is clearly intent on framing its version as a moderate compromise, and to do that they need to stoke liberal outrage.

After putting more progressives in the Senate last year and reelecting the president on a platform that included raising taxes, progressives think they deserve more from a White House budget than what they're getting. At the White House briefing Friday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told Obama's upset base to, basically, deal with it.

"The budget reflects his priorities within a budget world that's not ideal," Carney said. "Within a budget decision-making process that's not ideal, yeah, obviously as he sees it, it requires compromise and negotiation and a willingness to accept that you won't get 100% of what you want."

The left, meanwhile, sounds more frustrated than anything else.

"Our negotiator-in-chief is now serving up cuts to Social Security benefits in a mystifying attempt to appease Republican hostage-takers in Congress," said Becky Bond, poltical director of the San Francisco-based CREDO. "The American people are overwhelmingly opposed to cutting Social Security benefits, and if Democrats don't want to go down in history as the party that destroyed one of the greatest social programs of all time, they need to stand up and unambiguously reject the president's proposed cuts."

CREDO and other national groups on the left are already trying to kill Obama's budget plan. Groups have threatened to primary Congressional Democrats who support Obama's proposed changes to entitlements. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee says it has a handful of volunteer leaders from Organizing for Action, the group formed out of Obama's 2012 campaign, who are willing to step back from the organization over the president's budget.

The back-and-forth between the president and the left Friday is something Washington hasn't seen much of in the second Obama term. For the most part, progressives have been overjoyed to see the president make gun control, immigration reform, and early childhood education his priorities. While there's simmering worry over what Obama will do with the KeystoneXL pipeline, progressives have been happy to see Obama talk about climate change and promise action on the issue.

The White House is trying to target Republicans with the budget, trying to box the party in with what Carney called a balanced combination of spending cuts and revenue increases. The goal is to sell the House Republican budget passed earlier this year as draconian in contrast to the White House plan. For now, anyway, Republicans are passing the popcorn as progressives howl.

"Looks like the president has managed to do it for a third year in a row: put together a budget sure to garner zero votes from either party," said Brendan Buck, spokesperson for Speaker John Boehner.

The White House and the left are still walking arm-in-arm on many things, including immigration reform and guns. But on the budget, a fight the left thought it won at the ballot box, Obama and the left are back on the outs.

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