CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Journalists here are homing in on Vice President Joe Biden's criticism of the GOP for not supporting any of the deficit-reduction proposals over the past year, noting that President Barack Obama did not embrace a report put out by the co-chairs of the Simpson-Bowles panel.
ABC's Jake Tapper, for instance, called the following, from Biden, an "incredible line."
"In Tampa, they talked with great urgency about the nation’s debt. And the need to act, to act now. But not once, not one single time, did they tell you that they rejected every plan put forward by us -- by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles Commission they referenced, or by other respected outside group -- to reduce the national debt. They were not for any of them. Why? Because they're not prepared to do anything about the debt if it contained even one dollar, not exaggerating, even one dollar -- one cent -- in new taxes for millionaires. Folks, that’s not courage. And that’s not fair," Biden said.
But focusing on the White House decision to not publicly embrace a plan that was rejected by the commission itself -- including by all three House Republicans, led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) -- is a textbook case of the media missing the story.
The problem with Biden's statement isn't that it's false. The problem is that it's true. With unemployment above 8 percent and the economy sputtering along, cutting government spending would have slowed growth further. Obama's 2011 focus on the deficit over job creation was a failure on every level, failing to reach a deal and turning the focus away from job creation.
The White House, contrary to media carping, did, in fact, desperately pursue a "grand bargain" that would dramatically trim the deficit, the sort of deal Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles were pursuing. In so doing, the Obama administration was willing to raise the Medicare retirement age and agree to a host of other cuts to social programs that would have caused real pain, in exchange for a disproportionately small amount of tax hikes.
Obama's pursuit of this deal led him to push the Senate to create a commission to hash one out. When Senate Republicans bailed on it, he created one by executive order. That panel -- Simpson-Bowles -- rejected the co-chairs' conclusions -- meaning there was no actual report for the president to support.
But Obama didn't give up, agreeing with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to dramatically cut spending in exchange for limited revenue increases. Meanwhile, a bipartisan group in the Senate was also working on a deficit-reduction deal.
Obama publicly backed the deal -- the kind of public support journalists are now saying was lacking.
As soon as Obama got behind the bargain, the GOP fled.
As the Washington Post reported, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) "was 'shocked,' he said later, when he saw Obama's remarks that day on television. His effusive praise for the Gang of Six, Coburn believed, was a tactical mistake that revealed Obama's inexperience in the ways of Washington. It signaled to skittish conservatives that a tax hike was on the way. Obama's announcement, Coburn said in an interview, 'absolutely killed anything we were doing with the Republicans.'"
To conclude from the White House failure to support Simpson-Bowles in public, after it had been rejected by the panel itself, that Obama didn't support a grand bargain is to ignore everything else the administration had done, even in the face of liberal criticism, to demonstrate otherwise.
Even after the collapse of Simpson-Bowles, Obama didn't give up his push for a grand bargain.
To the chagrin of progressives, he reiterated his support for such a deal during Thursday night's speech. "I'm still eager to reach an agreement based on the principles of my bipartisan debt commission," he said. Obama's support for a grand bargain, even in the face of relentless progressive opposition, has not wavered, despite the media's confusing response to Biden's claim.
Adam Green, head of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, immediately pushed back on Obama's restated support of a deficit deal.
"Mitt Romney must not become president. But it's unacceptable for a Democratic president to pull the wool over supporters' eyes by talking blandly about a 'bipartisan commission' that actually proposed extreme cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits -- and lowering corporate tax rates," Green said.