It was a masterstroke which should be recorded as the high point of his presidency.
As I read the advance text of President Obama’s thoughtfully smart proposals to reduce the deficit, some options British Prime Minister Hacker (fictitious) considered for a party political – his first after becoming PM in Yes, Prime Minister — came to mind.
During intensive preparation for his address, Hacker was asked “What is the broadcast to be about?” He responded,
I couldn’t think what he meant for a moment. Obviously the broadcast is to be about me. I explained this to him, and he saw the point entirely. However, he wanted further clarification on one small matter of detail: what exactly was I going to say?
I couldn’t see that his mattered much, but he wanted to know which policies I’d be referring to. I explained that it would be the usual: go forward together, a better tomorrow, tighten our belts, all pull together, healing the wounds, that sort of thing.
He was happy with that, but urged me to consider what I’d say specifically. My first thought was that I’d talk about specifically tightening our belts, healing specific wounds in our society.
But Malcom pressured me to consider saying something new. I’d never considered that
So here’s what President Obama wants us to do:
We have to live within our means, reduce our deficit, and get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and win the future.
Following these crystal clear objectives, President Obama expressed dislike for the Republican alternative.
[T]his is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1% saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.
Moving right along, President Obama’s specific four step proposal is to
► Save about $750 billion over twelve years. We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs I care about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs. We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology. We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access. We will invest in education and job training. We will do what we need to compete and we will win the future.
► Find additional savings in our defense budget. . . . Over the last two years, Secretary Gates has courageously taken on wasteful spending, saving $400 billion in current and future spending. I believe we can do that again. We need to not only eliminate waste and improve efficiency and effectiveness, but conduct a fundamental review of America’s missions, capabilities, and our role in a changing world. I intend to work with Secretary Gates and the Joint Chiefs on this review, and I will make specific decisions about spending after it’s complete.
► Further reduce health care spending in our budget. Here, the difference with the House Republican plan could not be clearer: their plan lowers the government’s health care bills by asking seniors and poor families to pay them instead. Our approach lowers the government’s health care bills by reducing the cost of health care itself.
As to the third specific proposal, President Obama noted that “Already, the reforms we passed in the health care law [AKA ObamaCare] will reduce our deficit by $1 trillion. My approach would build on these reforms. As President Obama spoke, a new poll was released showing support for ObamaCare dropping to just 35%,” while opposition stands at 45 percent, and another 17 percent are neutral. Among seniors, support has dipped below 30 percent for the first time.” His empathetic compassion for the seniors will probably bring them right around.
► The fourth step in our approach is to increase taxes for the filthy rich reduce spending in the tax code. In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans. But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.
Beyond that, the tax code is also loaded up with spending on things like itemized deductions. And while I agree with the goals of many of these deductions, like homeownership or charitable giving, we cannot ignore the fact that they provide millionaires an average tax break of $75,000 while doing nothing for the typical middle-class family that doesn’t itemize.
Alas, even Howard Kurtz of The Daily Beast was less than impressed. After praising President Obama’s masterful job of “eviscerating the GOP budget plan” and slamming “Paul Ryan’s proposed tax breaks for the wealthy,” he complained that “when it came to his blueprint for slashing the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years, Obama painted in the broadest strokes.”
[B]y limiting his pitch to general themes, by failing to fill in the blanks, he ensured that it will get even messier. Once again, Obama is taking the high rhetorical ground while largely leaving the details to others.
Oh well, President Obama has to be presidential. However, he did articulate a specific way — maybe — to kick the deficit can forward as long as possible with a shovel ready idea. “In early May, the Vice President will begin regular meetings with leaders in both parties with the aim of reaching a final agreement on a plan to reduce the deficit by the end of June.” This is dependent upon someone finding the key to the closet in which Vice President Biden was hidden during his earlier efforts to coordinate clear Administration objectives with the far from clear objectives of the Obstructionist Republicans.