White House staffers who have been grumbling about President Obama’s outreach efforts with Republicans in the past two weeks probably cheered up a bit when they saw their boss’s interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos yesterday. While the president was still talking about the virtues of schmoozing with the GOP, the more he talked about the substance of the budget negotiations the less likely it seemed that there would ever be much to talk about.
Liberals were denouncing the budget proposal put forward by Rep. Paul Ryan yesterday as a sign that Republicans were unwilling to bow to the president’s dictates and abandon their principles. But in his interview, the president was characterizing the issues that would have to be resolved in a way that makes it appear he isn’t backing down either. More than that, his lack of urgency about dealing with the debt crisis and his unwillingness to contemplate any meaningful reform of entitlements as well as the way he spoke of GOP efforts in that direction gave the lie to the current media narrative about his desire for compromise. If the president can’t even conduct a charm offensive without demonizing the other side in this dispute, then the whispers from the White House staff that the entire exercise is a cynical sham appear to be entirely correct.
Even before the press conference announcing his budget plan was over, Democrats were bombarding House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan with abuse. After years of denouncing Ryan as an extremist, liberals see no need to be diplomatic about the 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate’s ideas. Moreover, after several days of press hype about President Obama’s tentative outreach to Republicans in the capital’s budget standoff, Ryan’s blueprint for cutting spending is being portrayed as nothing less than a provocation intended to deepen the partisan divide. The very act of his sticking to the principles he has consistently articulated throughout his career is viewed as somehow a lack of respect for the verdict of the voters last November as well as an unhelpful diversion from the path to compromise.
Nevertheless, Ryan’s plan was not a mistake. Whatever course the negotiations between the parties take in the coming weeks and months, it is important that Republicans state what they stand for. Elections may have consequences but, as Ryan rightly noted today, they don’t mean the losers must abandon their principles. Restraining the reach of government, cutting back spending and preventing job-killing tax hikes are just as important today as they were before Mitt Romney and Ryan lost. The battle over the direction of the country is not the function of one election or the tussle over the budget in any given year. President Obama’s re-election makes it all the more imperative that conservatives understand that they are involved in a contest over ideas rather than personalities. Far from this being the moment to roll over and confine the debate to one over the details of Obama’s plans, conservatives need to follow Ryan’s example and speak up for what is right if they are ever to prevail.
With the House Republican leadership sticking to its plans to push through a Plan B tax and spending bill today, it’s an open question as to whether House Speaker John Boehner is really bluffing about his proposal as the party’s final answer to the White House in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Considering that there is no chance that the Democrats will allow the GOP plan to pass in the Senate and that reportedly even the staffs of the two sides are not talking, right now it is entirely possible that the standoff will result in there being no deal in place prior to the Christmas holiday next week. Or is it?
There are many observers in Washington and around the nation who are convinced that Plan B is merely an elaborate bluff designed to smoke more concessions out of an administration that for all of the president’s bluster is as desperate to avoid the ruinous tax increases and spending cuts that a failure to make a deal will bring as any Republican. But considering the enormous difficulty that Boehner is having in lining up the 218 votes from his own caucus that he will need to pass his legislation, imagining him going back to Republicans in the next couple of weeks to ask for their support for what is certain to be an even more unpalatable compromise deal seems a stretch. That means that it is entirely possible that Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor mean what they say about putting off any further efforts to resolve the crisis until January. In other words, like it or not, both parties may actually be heading over the fiscal cliff with Plan B.
The chief attack on Paul Ryan electorally is simple: His now-famous Plan “ends Medicare as we know it,” thereby stripping the elderly of their health care. They should fear it and fear him and vote against him.
The next three months will be a test of something important: Whether this assertion, which is an out-and-out lie, can overcome the plain explication of the truth.
The Senate unanimously rejected President Obama’s budget yesterday, two months after the president’s budget was voted down unanimously in the House. It’s an embarrassing testimony to both Obama’s leadership and the Senate majority leadership’s willingness to take the long-term deficit problems seriously, particularly during an election year, and Democrats are furiously swinging into spin control mode.
The fallback excuse for Senate Democrats during the past few months has been that the debt ceiling deal already put spending caps into place, making a new budget unnecessary. They’re still standing by that claim:
Democrats say the exercise is unnecessary this year because Democrats and Republicans wrote spending caps for the year into law in the hard-fought summer deal that raised the nation’s debt ceiling.
Republicans counter that the debt deal does not replace a legal requirement that Congress adopt a budget resolution for the year.
The Obama campaign released an interactive chart today called “The Life of Julia,” which purports to show “how President Obama’s policies help one woman over her lifetime – and how Mitt Romney would change her story.”
We first see the fictional cartoon Julia at age three, enjoying the Head Start program that Obama says he has “taken steps to improve.” Under Romney, we’re told, budget cuts to Head Start would result in 200,000 fewer slots per year for young children. Thanks to Obama’s birth control mandate, the 27-year-old Julia is able to “focus on her work rather than worry about her health.” Romney, on the other hand, supports legislation that would “place Julia’s health care decisions in the hands of her employer.”
The chart goes on to describe how Obama’s policies would help Julia and Romney’s would hurt her at various ages. As you can imagine, most of it is wildly dishonest. But instead of rebutting all the falsehoods, I’d rather take a look at how Obama’s policies would impact Julia throughout her life, based on another chart the White House released, buried within Obama’s FY13 budget proposal.
Last week, President Obama was focused on the student loan extension bill as he pursued the youth vote, and this week he’s back to talking about the transportation bill at a union event. It may be hard to keep up with the president’s ever-changing priorities, which shift depending on which demographic he needs to court at the moment, but one thing remains the same. Obama is still railing against the “Do Nothing Congress”:
Obama’s latest attack on [House Speaker John] Boehner is over construction projects, which the president says have been blocked by Republicans who have refused to take up a long-term highway bill approved in a bipartisan vote by the Senate.
The president said the stalled legislation is keeping millions of workers jobless, and is preventing necessary projects forward across the country, including in Boehner’s own district. …
On Monday, he also sought to portray Boehner as out of touch with the needs of his own district.
“I went to the Speaker’s hometown, stood under a bridge that was crumbling, everybody acknowledges it needs to be rebuilt,” Obama said. “Maybe he doesn’t drive anymore. Maybe he doesn’t notice how messed up it was … they still said no.”
It finally looked like Senate Budget Committee Democrats were going to go ahead with a budget markup today, albeit a pointless one as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would block any budget resolution from a floor vote. But the committee chairman, Sen. Kent Conrad, is suddenly punting on the plan:
The Democratic-led Senate hasn’t passed a budget blueprint since April 2009, and it won’t do so again this spring as election-year pressures consume Capitol Hill. In fact, Conrad’s budget “markup” Wednesday won’t even be a real markup because senators won’t actually offer amendments or vote.
The 10-year budget plan Conrad unveiled Tuesday is based on the so-called Bowles-Simpson deficit-reduction plan, though the chairman conceded it’s “just reality” that any real deficit work by his committee will likely be put off until after November.
Everyone from President Obama to Jason Furman, the principal deputy director of the White House National Economic Council, to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to Politico’s Jim VandeHei, agree that the so-called Buffett Rule is a gimmick that has almost no bearing on the budget deficit. And for good reason. The Treasury Department confirms that the tax would raise at most $5 billion a year—or less than 0.5 percent of the $1.2 trillion fiscal 2012 budget deficit and, over the next decade, 0.1 percent of the $45.43 trillion the federal government will spend (for more, see here). By one estimate, the “Buffett Rule” would cover 17 days of the president’s next decade of deficits. So it’s not, in any sense, a serious or meaningful proposal. And yet it has, as the New York Times reports, become a “centerpiece” of the Obama re-election campaign.
So there you have it. The Obama presidency has reached the point where a policy that virtually everyone (including the president) concedes is a gimmick is now a centerpiece of Obama’s campaign.
There are many ways to measure the intellectual exhaustion of the Obama presidency. This isn’t a bad place to start.
As Pete wrote earlier, Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan passed the House as expected this afternoon. And while that’s probably going to be the furthest it goes this year, Republicans are looking to make it their guiding message heading into the general election season.
House Speaker John Boehner kicked off this effort shortly after the budget plan passed:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Thursday afternoon that the budget proposal put forward by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is a “real vision” of how Republicans would govern if they had more control of Washington.
“So I applaud my colleagues,” he said of those who worked on the Ryan budget, “for the tough decisions they’ve made, to try to do the right thing for the country, to lay out a real vision of what we were to do if we get more control here in this town. It’s still a Democrat-run town.” …
“You look at all the proposals we’ve seen in this debate, it’s all more of the same,” Boehner said. “Two things that are prevalent: let’s raise taxes on the American people once again, and secondly, let’s kick the can down the road as if no one knows that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are going broke.” …
“While we did a budget last year, we’re doing another budget this year, we’re making tough decisions to help preserve Social Security and preserve Medicare, the United States Senate… it’s been 1,065 days since they passed a budget,” he said. “Almost three years since they’ve had the courage to show the American people what their solutions are.”
Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed the GOP budget authored by Representative Paul Ryan by a vote of 228-191 (a day after President Obama’s budget was voted down in the House 414-0, which comes a year after Obama’s budget was voted down in the Senate 97-0). It’s therefore worth a tip of the hat not simply to Ryan, chairman of the Budget Committee, but also to Speaker John Boehner.
It was Boehner who a year ago gave the green light to Ryan to push ahead with his bold budget, even though then (and now) it calls for fundamentally reforming Medicare. Last year in particular the fear among many Republicans and conservatives was that advocating a restructuring of Medicare was political suicide. It hasn’t turned out that way, but that wasn’t known at the time. And Boehner’s support was crucial to Ryan; without it, the Wisconsin representative could never have pushed ahead.
The House is set to vote on Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget this afternoon, and it’s expected to pass along party lines. Republicans are attempting to build a contrast to the president’s budget, which failed unanimously, 414-0, in the House yesterday – one display of bipartisan unity that the White House probably wasn’t pleased to see.
The L.A. Times reports:
Doubling down on a controversial campaign issue, the GOP-led House is set to approve a 2013 budget that would cut taxes for the wealthy, revamp Medicare and slash federal spending in a vote that will define the Republican Party this election year and beyond.
Thursday’s vote comes as a heated debate is playing out in Congress and the campaign trail, where Mitt Romney has embraced the proposal in sharp contrast to President Obama’s approach to budgeting.
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, two liberal Catholics, Bryan Massingale and John Gehring, wrote a column asserting that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget “fails the moral test of his own faith tradition and disregards our nation’s responsibility to care for the most vulnerable.” The budget “acts like a schoolyard bully. It kicks those who are already down.” The writers then offer us “a refresher course in basic Catholic teaching. The Catholic justice tradition … holds a positive role for government, advocates a ‘preferential option for the poor’ and recognizes that those with greater means should contribute a fair share in taxes to serve the common good.” A Catholic vision for a just economy is “rooted in the conviction that we are all in this together, and not just isolated individuals locked in a Darwinian struggle for survival.”
These writers have opted for moralizing over serious arguments, banalities over facts. There’s not a word in their column, for example, about (a) the explosion in domestic spending we’ve seen during the last three years or (b) how Medicare is the main driver of our debt, why our debt trajectory is different and unprecedented, and why the failure to fundamentally restructure Medicare would lead to a fiscal catastrophe and eventually to dismantling the program. There is no acknowledgement that Ryan’s budget increases spending on programs like S-CHIP and Medicaid, that it keeps domestic cuts from harming anti-poverty programs, and that it respects the principle of subsidiarity. But the column by Massingale and Gehring is worth highlighting not simply for its substantive ignorance but for its moral confusion, which is at the core of modern liberalism.
On “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace yesterday morning, David Plouffe, senior adviser to President Obama, talked about Paul Ryan’s recently announced budget plan. You can see the discussion here with the relevant portion beginning about 9:30. With a distinct now-we’ve-got-’em! note of triumph in his voice, Plouffe said that the plan had been endorsed by the Republican presidential candidates and that, with Mitt Romney the frontrunner, this was now the Romney-Ryan Budget. It calls for cuts in government spending through basic entitlement reform, such as means testing and block grants to the states, and tax cuts coupled with limits on tax deductions that would be targeted at the rich. Obviously, the Obama team is looking forward to running against this proposal and is anxious to tie the probable Republican nominee to it.
This reminded me, as so much of the Obama presidency has reminded me of the Jimmy Carter presidency, of Carter’s re-election campaign in 1980. The country was in the throes of the worst peacetime inflation in its history, with 12 percent inflation in 1980 (with an unemployment rate well over 7 percent). The prime rate, the benchmark interest rate on loans, was over 20 percent (it’s 3.25 percent this morning). Read More
The risk in pegging an election campaign to a specific issue is that the issue will be eclipsed by another or will fade in importance on its own. The campaigns of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have responded in different ways to slightly better jobs numbers. The Washington Post yesterday asked if foreign policy could end up playing a more significant role in the election than previously expected, though the Post notes that exit polling has not backed this up.
Economic fluctuation and the constant interpretation and reinterpretation of data make economic forecasting a less stable foundation of an election campaign than, say, asking simply if the public thinks they are better off now than they were four years ago. Gas prices have dented President Obama’s poll numbers recently, but that, too, may change. Romney, the more likely nominee, will have a less compelling argument against ObamaCare, for obvious reasons, though he can still run on his promise to repeal it. But beyond that, the question remains what kind of general election message will Romney present? He seems to have located one yesterday, and will be helped by Paul Ryan’s budget speech today.
Robert Samuelson has a typically excellent column in the Washington Post today where he points out the dangers of looming sequestration–the requirement, enacted by Congress last summer, that more than $500 billion in defense spending will be cut next January along with the nearly $500 billion that has already been cut this year. Many lawmakers are talking as if it’s a done deal that sequestration will be put off at least for one year, but Samuelson isn’t so sure and neither am I. He writes that in November,
[o]ne party and perhaps both will be embittered by the election’s outcome. Congress will face two and possibly three highly contentious issues: the expiration of the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 at year-end; the looming start of the sequester; and, possibly, the need to raise the federal debt ceiling (the Bipartisan Policy Center estimates this could occur in November).
The confluence of so many big issues — with timetables — could inspire a grand compromise. It also could produce chaos. The sequester could take effect by default and confusion. The Obama administration’s continuing embrace of the sequester as a political lever, when it clearly hasn’t worked, makes this outcome more, not less, likely.
Could the Obama administration make it any clearer that it has little regard or respect for the men and women who make the world safe so that the president can indulge so happily in the rich man’s game, and his wife and family can gallivant so luxuriously around the globe?
Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday on some strong opposition from the VFW, the Military Officers Association of America, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon to the Pentagon’s plan to lay some of its budget cutting squarely on the backs of military personnel by raising their healthcare fees.
You can count on one hand (and maybe less) the number of public policy issues with which I agree with Barney Frank. But in an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” last week, Representative Frank made some sense.
When asked about what’s wrong with the budget process, Frank said the problem, at its core, is “indecision on the part of the voters.” He pointed out that Congress is not an autonomous instrument that operates on its own; public opinion has a lot of influence. “The public has a question it has to resolve,” according to Frank. “The public wants a certain level of government activity but it wants to provide a level of revenue that’s not enough for that activity.” The main reason we have a budget deficit is there’s “a greater public demand for services than there is a willingness to pay the taxes.” And his hope in 2012 is that we see “a resolution on the part of the public.”
The most recent budget submitted by President Obama continues his amazing streak. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is some of the data: Four years of spending of more than 24 percent of GDP, which translates into the four highest spending years since before the mid-point of the last century. A record four years of trillion-dollar plus deficits ($1.327 this year, an increase from last year). Revenues at historic lows because of an anemic recovery, including four years in a row when revenues won’t reach 16 percent of GDP. A record of more than $5 trillion in debt in a single presidential term. (During George W. Bush’s two terms, total deficit spending was $3.4 trillion.)
Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard points out that prior to Obama, our annual deficit spending had only exceeded 6 percent of GDP during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. But during Obama’s four years in the White House, annual deficit spending will average 8.4 percent of GDP (the figure is higher – 9.1 percent – if you count 2009, which some argue you should because Obama’s $800 billion stimulus passed in February).
Three years ago this month, Barack Obama made a public promise: “Today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office,” the new president said. The president reiterated his promise here, and here. In fact, Obama was repeating his commitment as late as December 2009, which is terribly inconvenient for those who say the president’s original broken promise can be forgiven because “there was a deeper hole to dig out of than anyone could have envisioned in January 2009.”
In fact, Obama and his team knew how deep the hole was in February 2009. But certainly by December 2009 – 11 months after he had been sworn in – it was clear to all the world just how deep the hole was.