Opinions, Context & Ideas from the TPM Editors TPM Editor's Blog

Bernie And Obama

It recounts, based on senators who were in the room, an episode in 2013 in which Sanders and former President Obama clashed again. In his budget that year, Obama supported a chained consumer price index, pegging the CPI to the rate of inflation. Those on the left of the Democratic Party, along with Sanders, saw the move as an attack on Social Security — under chained CPI, Social Security rates would increase at a slower rate — and an unnecessary attempt to compromise with Republicans on budget deficit reduction in the era of the fiscal cliff (remember that?)

Though many Democrats opposed the President’s idea, it was Sanders who ultimately took Obama to task over the proposal, the Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere reports. Some of the senators in the room described their reaction to him:

“I just remember thinking, Whoa, Bernie’s got game,” a second senator who was in the room told me. “I also remember thinking, There’s no love lost between them.”

In the end, most of the caucus took the position that Sanders voiced, opposing the chained Consumer Price Index, and Obama relented and dropped the idea. That was Sanders and Obama’s last substantive discussion before Sanders started winning support in his 2016 presidential run.

Ultimately, Obama’s attempt at compromise backfired. Paul Ryan, then the House Budget Committee chair, did not include chained CPI in his budget. Further, Republicans chose to campaign on the President’s proposal as a “shocking attack on seniors,” tying it (counterintuitively?) to their attacks on Obamacare.

“But I’ll tell you, when you’re going after seniors the way he’s already done on Obamacare, taking $700 billion out of Medicare to put into Obamacare, and now coming back at seniors again — I think you’re crossing that line very quickly,” NRCC chair Rep. Greg Waldon (R-OR) told CNN.

The next year, Obama ditched chained CPI in his budget.

The episode is a datapoint in a larger discussion that has arisen repeatedly (and at times simplistically) in the primary: is it better for a Democratic president to reach out and attempt compromise with a Republican Congress? Or should the White House first consider the many times it has been burned?

Notably, in his final two years in office, Obama himself took a step back from his tendency toward bipartisanship. It was during that time that he put in place many of his administration’s most notable second-term achievements, from financial regulation to workplace protections. But many of these were temporary victories; because they were carried out as executive actions, without the help of Congress, many of his most ambitious steps, particularly on the environment — the Clean Power Plan and the Paris Climate Agreement, for instance — have been almost entirely reversed under Trump.

About The Author


John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.