THURSDAY HOT READ: OBAMA SINKS TO THE OCCASION
President Obama always lets you down. Just when you think he’s ready to deliver a lofty speech chocked with specifics on handling the spending and debt emergency, he offers up a hyper-partisan attack on the leading Republican proposal, gives practically no details of his own plan, and then sanctimoniously puts himself on the side of preserving “the American dream for future generations.”
Obama didn’t rise to the occasion. He actually sank, as he did two months ago when he released a 2012 budget that would increase spending by $40 billion and double the national debt over the next decade.
Let me list the lowlights of the president’s speech this afternoon at George Washington University:
The problem is George W. Bush’s fault. This is a hardy perennial of Obama’s. “America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000,” he said. Then spending skyrocketed due to two wars and a prescription drug program and “we didn’t pay for any of this new spending.” The fiscal problem was made worse “with trillions of dollars in unpaid for tax cuts.” He didn’t mention that discretionary spending soared on his watch by 11 percent in 2009 and 14 percent in 2010, up from 6 percent in 2008, the last Bush year. Nor did he concede that Democrats wanted a bigger, more expensive Medicare drug program.
The president distorted the Republican budget for 2012 drafted by Representative Paul Ryan and approved by the House Budget Committee. Ryan’s vision “says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them…[and] says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors,” Obama declared. And, oh, yes, there are the kids with disabilities or autism or Down syndrome who would have to “fend for themselves” if the Ryan budget passes.
Obama resorts to class warfare – again. Ryan would “reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.” Please, tax cuts aren’t the same as spending. They lead to private investment, which creates jobs. In fact, Obama said, the rich would be happy to pay higher taxes. “Washington just hasn’t asked them to.” That’s the root of the deficit?
Obama takes credit for already having cut $1 trillion in health care as a result of Obamacare. He uses this figure frequently, but does anyone really believe it? Not many. In a supposedly serious speech, it’s out of place. And guess who would make sure cuts in medical care actually occur? One of the most controversial and feared aspects of Obamacare: the Independent Payment Advisory Board, which was purposely put out of the reach of congressional supervision. It may not be a death panel, but it’s headed in that direction.
For all his vagueness, the president did set a goal of reducing the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years. He offered no specifics, only broad categories. But it’s specifics that matter. Goals for cutting spending are easy to set. They’re a Washington specialty. They’re just never met.
The president ended on a (false) high note. His plan embraces “a sense of responsibility” that Americans have for each other. “It’s patriotism.” Imagine the reaction if President Bush had said that. It wouldn’t have been pretty. But Obama will probably get away with it.
Did the White House A/V dude load the wrong file into Obama’s teleprompter? While the president’s class-warfare attack on Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” would probably have earned rousing applause at a Jefferson-Jackson dinner, the speech failed to accomplish its advertised purpose: outlining Obama’s long-term blueprint to avoid a debt crisis.
Even if a) his doubling-down on Obamacare’s unproven cost controls works and b) his trillion-dollar tax increases don’t slow the economy, this new plan only stabilizes government debt as a share of the economy for maybe a dozen years. After that, the march to financial crisis continues apace.
Of course, if Obama had actually offered a multi-decade blueprint, like Ryan did, he would have had to concede that there’s no way he can pay for all his spending over the long term without Washington raising taxes on the middle-class and probably instituting a value-added tax. (On that count, one nonpartisan budget expert told me, the Obama plan is “ridiculous.”)
Now that’s no way to launch a reelection campaign. It’s also no way to win the economic future. Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund kvetched that the White House had no credible plan in place to cut U.S. debt. Some 24 hours later, it still doesn’t.