President Obama just wrapped up his remarks on the the Beltway's admittedly maddening debt ceiling debate. It was a deeply political speech that was astonishingly untethered to the reality of today's events. It read like a greatest hits collection of the president's favorite poll-tested attacks from his series of recent press conferences. And as I predicted, it was laden with disingenuous, straw-man arguments against Republicans. He opened, predictably, with a shot at his predecessor:
For the last decade, we have spent more money than we take in. In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus. But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription drug program were simply added to our nation’s credit card. As a result, the deficit was on track to top $1 trillion the year I took office.
President Bush's average annual deficit was less than $300 Billion. Still too high, but for some needed persoective, this year's budget shortfall is roughly $1.4 Trillion. Obama's 2012 budget raises taxes by $2 Trillion, yet it still adds $10 Trillion to the debt over a decade. Put another way, this is not a "revenue" problem. Republicans have recognized this reality for some time, hence their strong opposition to any form of tax increases in a possible debt deal. Democrats have resisted that principle at every turn -- until today. The bipartisan deal Obama killed over the weekend and Senate Democrats' new plan both spurn job-killing tax hikes. For all intents and purposes, it's off the table. No one at that table is still talking about tax hikes except for Obama, and he knows it. Which brings us to the sad reality that this speech was not about solving the problem. If the president were interested in solving the problem, he might have offered a specific solution at some point in this process. He never did. No, tonight was about scoring political points and using the presidential bully pulpit to position himself for 2012.
Case in point: Ignoring today's developments, Obama demanded a "balanced approach" (not a balanced budget, but a balanced approach) over and over again throughout the speech. He promiscuously played the class warfare card, and even resurrected the tired "corporate jets" line for old times' sake. Then he made cursory mention of Harry Reid's plan and offered his tepid endorsement:
Congress now has one week left to act, and there are still paths forward. The Senate has introduced a plan to avoid default, which makes a down payment on deficit reduction and ensures that we don’t have to go through this again in six months. I think that’s a much better path, although serious deficit reduction would still require us to tackle the tough challenges of entitlement and tax reform.
What he didn't mention was that Reid's plan -- the "much better path" -- doesn't address "revenues," either. Hmm. The reason it's "much better," from the White House's perspective is that it pushes the debt ceiling off the political table until after the next election. This is a calculated dodge of an election year fight over spending and taxes. It's that simple. It's the same motive behind his decision to squelch the Reid/Boehner/McConnell plan last weekend.
Finally, after invoking Ronald Reagan, Obama closed with a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “Every man cannot have his way in all things…Without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.” Good quote, cleverly employed. But it reminded me that this president essentially had "his way with all things" for nearly two years. For more than half of that stretch, his party enjoyed a filibuster-proof majority, and could pass virtually whatever they wanted. And they did. The president and his Congressional allies ran roughshod over the American people with a perverse parade of unpaid-for, giant spending initiatives -- culminating with Obamacare. The public revolted by handing Republicans historic gains in November. The GOP's election mantra was pretty basic: Stop the spending binge, restore financial order, and hold the line on taxes. Republicans have kept their promises.
Late in his address, President Obama encouraged citizens to inundate Congress with phone calls to demand higher taxes and to push a White House-approved compromise:
The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government. So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.
Interestingly, the Capitol switchboard can also take calls from people who favor a different approach. In fact, it's the very same phone number: (202) 224-
UPDATE - Video added: