In 2011, Obama has a Chance to Frame the Tax-and-Spend Debate


Updated 5:32 p.m. Eastern Time

While political observers debate the success of the 111th Congress, especially the last month in the so-called lame duck, post-election session, many will miss the critical big picture.

Accomplishing so much in the lame duck -- tax cuts, the START treaty, repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- allows the White House to start 2011 with a clean slate. That in and of itself could be another key accomplishment of the past month.

Why? Because as the Republicans take control of the House and grow their ranks in the Senate, the Obama administration doesn't have to continue the battles of 2010. Unlike this time last year, when the White House started 2010 in the middle of a pitched battle over health care -- one that lasted until March and left them unable to focus on anything else -- January 2011 will start for the president with his agenda on the forefront. It will give President Obama the ability to get in front of, co-opt, or stop the Republicans' agenda, which is to cut spending and bring the deficit under control.

The GOP is going to come out swinging, and with all the major business of 2010 basically completed, the White House has the ability to set the agenda.

The spending issue will be front and center of the new 112th Congress as the current government funding runs out in March and there will be a vote to raise the debt ceiling of the nation -- a critical procedure for the nation's ability to borrow money and top enemy of the new ranks of the Tea Party-backed Republicans in the House.

Key for the White House will be the way the president frames the issues of spending, taxing, and cutting the deficit. Mr. Obama will start the year outlining his priorities and will spend his State of the Union address laying out part of the debt cutting debate -- what are the priorities of the nation and how do we pay for them, being key questions.

A few weeks back in a speech in North Carolina, Mr. Obama begun to lay out that argument, saying he would battle efforts to cut spending on education and infrastructure. "To borrow an analogy, cutting the deficit by cutting investments in areas like education, areas like innovation -- that's like trying to reduce the weight of an overloaded aircraft by removing its engine. It's not a good idea," he said on December 6 in Winston-Salem.

At a press conference today, the president, while basking in the recent successes in Congress, made it very clear that the battle over spending starts in January.

"I expect we'll have a robust debate about this when we return from the holidays, a debate that will have to answer an increasingly urgent question, and that is, how do we cut spending that we don't need, while still making investments that we do need, investments in education, research and development, innovation, and the things that are essential to grow our economy over the long run, create jobs, and compete with every other nation in the world?" he said.

And rising above the political fray, he said the answer has to be bipartisan.

"I look forward to hearing from folks on both sides of the aisle about how we can accomplish that goal."

Robert Hendin
Robert Hendin is a CBS News senior political producer. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here.