Last evening, President Obama made a brief statement on the failure of the so-called "Super Committee" to agree to reduce the national debt by $1.2 Trillion dollars over the next decade. In imparting his version of events, the president reprised his familiar role as a "pyromaniac in a field of strawmen." Watch:
Aside from his predictable bromides about "fair shares" (read this) and "balanced approaches," Obama makes a few statements worth exploring:
(1) The president cites a non-specified "overwhelming majority" of experts who support his deficit reduction approach, the details of which have been elusive. Perhaps he's talking about Mark Zandi, his favorite conservative economist...who just happens to be a registered Democrat. He also claims that most Americans are eager to tax "the rich" more to help pay down the debt. He must have missed this poll, which shows plurality support for a cuts-only debt reduction effort. His comments also ignore the fact that our spiraling debt is emphatically not the result a revenue problem, but that's par for the course.
(2) The president credits Congressional Democrats with "putting politics aside" in an effort to strike a deal, then chides Republicans for refusing to "listen to the voices of reason and compromise." This is a laughably false narrative, as we'll demonstrate shortly. As we suspected, the president seemed almost gleeful that the committee had failed to achieve their task. His entire re-election strategy hinges on painting his opponent as a monster and griping about a do-nothing "Republican" Congress. Failure served Democrats' political interests, so down it went. Recall that prominent liberals and elected Democrats have openly stated that they were rooting for failure.
(3) The president recycles his scalpel/hatchet imagery on debt reduction. It's a trenchant metaphor, but he's been using it since the 2008 campaign, when he pledged to pore over the entire federal budget to identify savings. Since he took office, the debt has spiked by more than $4 Trillion, an outcome he once labeled "unpatriotic." Obama's budget scalpel does not exist, and the deeper we wade into red ink, the more likely a brutal austerity hatchet job will become necessary. Just ask the Greeks. Or the Spaniards. Or the...
(4) The president vows to veto any efforts to undo the automatic "sequestration" cuts triggered by the Super Committee going bust. Sen. John McCain, among others, has talked about reversing some of the cuts that would severely undermine American military capability. Obama's own Secretary of Defense has sternly warned that the sequestration reductions would have a catastrophic effect on our ability to defend this country, and would "invite aggression" from our enemies. Yet the Commander In Chief is publicly calcifying his opposition to preventing those cuts from being implemented. I think this is a bluff (would he really veto a bipartisan bill to restore necessary military funding?), but it's a revealing bluff. This is a man who has offered zero concrete plans to reform our badly broken Medicare system, but is willing to defy his own SecDef on basic security needs.
(5) In a debt reduction speech, the president calls for more infrastructure spending and state bailouts for government sector workers.
(6) The president casts Republicans as intractable and stubborn, just hours after he signed two elements of his jobs plan into law, thanks to overwhelming Republican support. "Do nothing!"
(7) The president admits that without Congressional action to extend the Bush tax rates (except for the rich, natch), every single tax-paying American, including middle and working class families, will experience a major tax increase in January 2013. Funny: Based on Democrats' incessant whining over the years, I thought Bush cut taxes only for "the rich." I guess not.
Now that we've fisked Obama's account, let's examine how Super Committe co-chair Rep. Jeb Hensarling describes the group's collapse -- a spectacle for which he had a front row seat. On Republicans' Medicare proposals:
Democrats on the committee made it clear that the new spending called for in the president's health law was off the table. Still, committee Republicans offered to negotiate a plan on the other two health-care entitlements—Medicare and Medicaid—based upon the reforms included in the budget the House passed earlier this year. The Medicare reforms would make no changes for those in or near retirement. Beginning in 2022, beneficiaries would be guaranteed a choice of Medicare-approved private health coverage options and guaranteed a premium-support payment to help pay for the plan they choose. Democrats rejected this approach but assured us on numerous occasions they would offer a "structural" or "architectural" Medicare reform plan of their own. While I do not question their good faith effort to do so, they never did.
Republicans on the committee also offered to negotiate a plan based on the bipartisan "Protect Medicare Act" authored by Alice Rivlin, one of President Bill Clinton's budget directors, and Pete Domenici, a former Republican senator from New Mexico. Rivlin-Domenici offered financial support to seniors to purchase quality, affordable health coverage in Medicare-approved plans. These seniors would be able to choose from a list of Medicare-guaranteed coverage options, similar to the House budget's approach—except that Rivlin-Domenici would continue to include a traditional Medicare fee-for-service plan among the options. This approach was also rejected by committee Democrats.
Republicans were willing to agree to additional tax revenue, but only in the context of fundamental pro-growth tax reform that would broaden the base, lower rates, and maintain current levels of progressivity. This is the approach to tax reform used by recent bipartisan deficit reduction efforts such as the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission and the Rivlin-Domenici plan. The Democrats said no. They were unwilling to agree to anything less than $1 trillion in tax hikes—and unwilling to offer any structural reforms to put our health-care entitlements on a permanently sustainable basis.
And on the Super Committee Democrats' (invisible) unified counter-proposals to two concrete GOP offers:
Despite the president's disappointing lack of leadership, I believe my co-chair, Sen. Patty Murray, and every Democrat acted with honor and integrity and negotiated in good faith to the end. It was, of course, difficult to negotiate with six Democrats who, as Democratic committee member Jim Clyburn said on Nov. 13, "never coalesced around a plan" themselves.
Recapping: Republicans offered multiple tax and entitlement reform plans, which incorporated Democratic ideas. They were all summarily rejected. Democrats insisted on a floor of $1 Trillion in new taxes, demanded more spending (!), and put forward neither a single entitlement reform plan, nor a united and specific overall counteroffer. I feel like we've seen this movie before. Having plugged their ears and shouted "no!" for months, Democrats -- led by President Obama -- are now trying to pin the blame on the elephant. This crew has no honor, and no shame.
Two parting thoughts: (a) This skirmish is over $1.2 Trillion in deficit reductions. To put that in perspective, President Obama's proposed 2012 budget would have added $26.3 Trillion in new debt by 2022. (b) Remember this?
February 2009: "I'm pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office."