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Works and Days

Second-Term Reckonings

January 16th, 2013 - 9:04 pm

Debt

Jack Lew can insist that borrowing $1 trillion a year is not adding to the deficit. Paul Krugman can demand that we borrow even more to achieve the proper Keynesian stimulus. Obama can maintain that spending is not the problem. But $16 trillion is $16 trillion, and the trajectories of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, disability, and unemployment insurance suggest that there is no end to the borrowing in sight. The economy is not growing much; unemployment has been higher in every month of the Obama administration than in any one month of his predecessor’s eight years. Not even slashing defense and upping federal and state income taxes on the fat cats will bring the solution, since it is mathematical and not political. Even Obama cannot issue an executive order outlawing the laws of physics.

The public very soon will see that there is to be less free stuff and lots more taxes — and yet that will still not be enough, as the new regulations, higher taxes, and constant demonizing of the private sector hamstring the economy.

Honesty

There is still only a vague appreciation that Obama has contradicted much of what he said in the past — to a degree more manifest than what was normal for a Reagan or Clinton. He no longer thinks deficits are unpatriotic as they were under Bush, and he most surely never planned to cut them in half by the end of his first term. He voted against raising the debt ceiling in 2006 when the debt was much smaller than it is now, and he now claims that for others to do what he did is little short of subversive. Obama once loudly and in detail warned against doing away with the filibuster that his lieutenants now seek to stop — and he once warned in the process about the sort of partisan abuse behind such an effort that he now embraces. He derided recess appointments that he now employs, and railed against the abuse of the executive order that he now has used to avoid legislative opposition on immigration, environmental regulations, and perhaps soon the Second Amendment.

Obama has praised public financing of presidential campaigns, and yet was the first candidate in the history of the law to renounce it. Renditions, tribunals, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, and preventative detention at one time or another were all demagogued by Obama as either useless or illegal — and all embraced or expanded by him without either a nod of thanks to Bush or a small admission that he had reversed course. He has blasted big-money fat cats on Wall Street for both taking federal bailouts and receiving huge bonuses for their incompetence, and yet nominated the very emblem of that hypocrisy — Citigroup’s Jack Lew — as his new Treasury secretary. An act analogous to lecturing about the need for the well-off to pay “their fair share” while appointing a tax-dodger as the prior Treasury secretary.

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