Commentary Magazine


Topic: budget

Sarah Palin Continues to Discredit Herself

Sarah Palin continues to act in ways that confirm some of the more negative things said about her.

For example, she’s taken to Facebook to attack the most recent budget plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. According to Ms. Palin:

The latest Ryan (R, Wisconsin) Budget is not an April Fool’s joke. But it really IS a joke because it is STILL not seeing the problem; it STILL is not proposing reining in wasteful government overspending TODAY, instead of speculating years out that some future Congress and White House may possibly, hopefully, eh-who-knows, take responsibility for today’s budgetary selfishness and shortsightedness to do so. THIS is the definition of insanity. Do we still not understand how dangerous it is to allow government to grow unchecked as we shackle ourselves with massive debt – a good portion of which is held by foreign nations who don’t necessarily like us? If we can’t balance the budget today, what on earth makes us think it will happen at some future date? The solution is staring us in the face. We need to rein in spending today, and don’t tell me there is nothing to cut when we know every omnibus bill is loaded with pork and kickbacks.

Reading the article linked below gave me the same reaction that my daughter just caused when she punked me with a very unfunny April Fool’s Day announcement. As my Dad would say after these April Fool’s announcements, “This would kill a lesser man.” This out-of-control debt is killing our economic future.

Whatever differences Ms. Palin may have with the Ryan plan–and perhaps she’ll take the time to offer an actual critique of if rather than a Facebook entry with lots of upper case words–it’s hardly a joke. But what might elicit a roll of the eyes is comparing Ms. Palin’s views now versus what they were nearly four years ago.

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Sarah Palin continues to act in ways that confirm some of the more negative things said about her.

For example, she’s taken to Facebook to attack the most recent budget plan by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. According to Ms. Palin:

The latest Ryan (R, Wisconsin) Budget is not an April Fool’s joke. But it really IS a joke because it is STILL not seeing the problem; it STILL is not proposing reining in wasteful government overspending TODAY, instead of speculating years out that some future Congress and White House may possibly, hopefully, eh-who-knows, take responsibility for today’s budgetary selfishness and shortsightedness to do so. THIS is the definition of insanity. Do we still not understand how dangerous it is to allow government to grow unchecked as we shackle ourselves with massive debt – a good portion of which is held by foreign nations who don’t necessarily like us? If we can’t balance the budget today, what on earth makes us think it will happen at some future date? The solution is staring us in the face. We need to rein in spending today, and don’t tell me there is nothing to cut when we know every omnibus bill is loaded with pork and kickbacks.

Reading the article linked below gave me the same reaction that my daughter just caused when she punked me with a very unfunny April Fool’s Day announcement. As my Dad would say after these April Fool’s announcements, “This would kill a lesser man.” This out-of-control debt is killing our economic future.

Whatever differences Ms. Palin may have with the Ryan plan–and perhaps she’ll take the time to offer an actual critique of if rather than a Facebook entry with lots of upper case words–it’s hardly a joke. But what might elicit a roll of the eyes is comparing Ms. Palin’s views now versus what they were nearly four years ago.

Consider this: On December 10, 2010, Ms. Palin published in her name an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why I Support the Ryan Roadmap.” Back then “the Roadmap for America’s Future produced by Rep. Paul Ryan… offers a reliable path to long-term solvency for our entitlement programs, and it does so by encouraging personal responsibility and independence.” And this: “Put simply: Our country is on the path toward bankruptcy. We must turn around before it’s too late, and the [Ryan] Roadmap offers a clear plan for doing so.”

And now consider this: The plan Palin supported in 2010 would have taken over 30 years to balance the budget. The plan she now opposes for not being sufficiently austere would balance the budget in ten years. Mr. Ryan himself has said that this plan cuts more spending than any budget he’s ever written, to the tune of $5.1 trillion over the next decade. In addition, Ryan’s plan calls for overhauling the tax code, repealing the Affordable Care Act, reforming entitlement programs, and promoting energy security.

Now you may believe, as I do, that Ms. Palin long ago ceased being a serious national voice. But she is representative of something real. She personifies a mindset within conservatism that is almost proudly anti-intellectual, one characterized by resentments, that relies on banalities, and is disconnected from reality. It views politics as a pose and seems to take special delight in targeting perceived heretics within the movement. It’s all rather silly.

At the same time, there is something problematic when people on the right, including the GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008, attack those who are actually doing the hard, necessary work of providing a conservative governing alternative to the Obama years. I recognize that posting shallow reactions on Facebook is easier than offering serious analysis or putting together an actual budget. 

Easier, perhaps, but ultimately discrediting.

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Ryan-Bashing Makes Dems Status Quo Party

So much has happened in the last three years that it seems like much longer since Democrats thought they could use a backlash against a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan to take back control of the House of Representatives. The trial case was a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district in which a Democrat took a seat previously held by the Republicans in May of 2011. That race was somewhat misleading since the GOP candidate was hobbled by the presence of a false flag Tea Party candidate on the ballot and Republicans took the seat back the following year. But though the campaign strategy of portraying the House budget chair and his fellow party members pushing grandparents over the cliff never really caught fire elsewhere, Democrats are still enamored of the theme and apparently will try again this year in the wake of Ryan’s latest proposal which will be passed today by his committee.

The headline in the New York Times article on the budget summed up the Democratic approach: “Ryan Budget Would Cut Food Stamps and Medicaid Deeply.” The point of that piece as well as the first salvos from the left is that the GOP is attempting to punish the poor while increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy. In a year in which President Obama has sought to distract the public from his domestic and foreign policy failures by claiming that income inequality is the country’s biggest problem, the Ryan budget is perfect fodder for administration talking points helpfully doled out by liberal outlets like the Times. As Politico notes, just as they tried unsuccessfully to do in the last election cycle, Democrats hope they can use Ryan to propel them to victory in 2014.

But while the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate may seem like an all-purpose piñata custom designed to boost Democratic fundraising and turnout, Ryan’s serious attempt to deal with the nation’s long-term debt problem is not be quite the gift they think it is. Though Ryan’s effort presents Democrats with a target to shoot at, it also demonstrates again that there is only one political party that is actually thinking about how to deal with the country’s long-term problems and it is not the one headed by Barack Obama.

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So much has happened in the last three years that it seems like much longer since Democrats thought they could use a backlash against a budget proposal from Rep. Paul Ryan to take back control of the House of Representatives. The trial case was a special election in New York’s 26th Congressional district in which a Democrat took a seat previously held by the Republicans in May of 2011. That race was somewhat misleading since the GOP candidate was hobbled by the presence of a false flag Tea Party candidate on the ballot and Republicans took the seat back the following year. But though the campaign strategy of portraying the House budget chair and his fellow party members pushing grandparents over the cliff never really caught fire elsewhere, Democrats are still enamored of the theme and apparently will try again this year in the wake of Ryan’s latest proposal which will be passed today by his committee.

The headline in the New York Times article on the budget summed up the Democratic approach: “Ryan Budget Would Cut Food Stamps and Medicaid Deeply.” The point of that piece as well as the first salvos from the left is that the GOP is attempting to punish the poor while increasing defense spending and cutting taxes for the wealthy. In a year in which President Obama has sought to distract the public from his domestic and foreign policy failures by claiming that income inequality is the country’s biggest problem, the Ryan budget is perfect fodder for administration talking points helpfully doled out by liberal outlets like the Times. As Politico notes, just as they tried unsuccessfully to do in the last election cycle, Democrats hope they can use Ryan to propel them to victory in 2014.

But while the Wisconsin congressman and 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate may seem like an all-purpose piñata custom designed to boost Democratic fundraising and turnout, Ryan’s serious attempt to deal with the nation’s long-term debt problem is not be quite the gift they think it is. Though Ryan’s effort presents Democrats with a target to shoot at, it also demonstrates again that there is only one political party that is actually thinking about how to deal with the country’s long-term problems and it is not the one headed by Barack Obama.

As he did with his previous budget proposals, Ryan does what pundits are always asking Congress to do and actually addresses the country’s budget dilemma and tries to provide a solution. While Democrats are grandstanding about the plight of the poor while proposing ideas like increasing the minimum wage that do more to hurt employment and the needy than help them, Ryan is seeking an answer to the question of how to actually create a new approaching to governing that is not based on kicking the can down the road. His approach to social welfare spending is not, contrary to the mischaracterizations of his opponents, to end them but to reform programs like Medicaid in such a manner as to make them viable in the long term and to provide individual with more choices and control over their coverage. Those government expenditures that he rightly wishes to eliminate are liberal playgrounds such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and other frills that may please some people but are not the responsibility of government.

The key to his proposal is an effort to cut the “autopilot spending and interest payments” — what he rightly calls the “drivers of our debt.” The point is, unless we address entitlement spending head on, the country’s out-of-control taxing and spending will sink the nation in a sea of red ink that will ensure that promises of future benefits will only be kept by a crippling tax bill that will burden future generations and undermine chances for economic growth. What Ryan is offering the country is reform, not the promises of more government largesse paid for by taxing the rich that is the staple of administration rhetoric. The choice here is not between more help for the poor and a defense of the rich, as liberals would have it, but between an attempt at solving an unsustainable debt problem and a desire to ignore that problem. Ryan’s approach may not be perfect but in attacking him in this manner for having the chutzpah to present a serious proposal for changing the way Washington does business, Democrats are proving once again that they are the status quo party that is unwilling to take a hard look at how to address the nation’s spending addiction.

Ryan’s willingness to present his ideas even though there is no chance that a Democrat-controlled Senate will adopt them provides the president’s party with an opportunity to demagogue the issues. But it also proves that in the competition for ideas, Democrats would rather be the party mired in the past rather than the one that seeks a path to a growing economy unburdened by debt. In a midterm election driven more by concern over bumbling Democrat projects like ObamaCare, which increase the debt and the size of the government, that might not be as smart a strategy as they think it, is.

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Two Cheers for a Do-Nothing Congress

As the year winds down, the media is taking a close look at what Congress has done in 2013 and is expressing its extreme displeasure. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial on Monday, the gridlock between the Democratic controlled White House and Senate and the Republican-run House of Representatives has led to only 52 bills being passed. Unless Congress kicks into overdrive in the final weeks of the year (during which they will only be in session for 10 days), this will be smallest number of bills passed since World War Two. That state of affairs has led to a spate of stories about this being the most unproductive Congress in history and strengthened the “throw the bums out” sentiment that has led the national legislature to have approval ratings just slightly above those of convicted criminals.

Some of the criticism lobbed at Congress is justified. On some issues, the leaderships of the two parties have botched opportunities to find common ground and to address ongoing issues that required new legislation. Even on issues where there is profound disagreement such as immigration, there was almost certainly room for compromise that would have made possible the passage of some needed reforms of a broken federal system. Even worse than that, there can be little disagreement about the fact that the failure to pass a budget is a disgrace.

But before we all join in the party dumping on Congress and calling for its membership to be collectively defeated for reelection, some perspective is needed. For all of its shortcomings, its inability to cram even more legislation into the already crowded pages of the Federal Register is not the worst thing you can say about a governing body. Not doing the president’s bidding and passing the laundry list of Obama administration second-term objectives in 2013 is a good thing, not a failure. Despite the assumption on the part of most liberal pundits pursuing the do-nothing Congress meme this month that its sole job is to pile up more laws, regulations, and taxes, sometimes the best thing it can do is to prevent the passage of unneeded or harmful laws. In that respect, this Congress has largely succeeded.

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As the year winds down, the media is taking a close look at what Congress has done in 2013 and is expressing its extreme displeasure. As the Washington Post noted in an editorial on Monday, the gridlock between the Democratic controlled White House and Senate and the Republican-run House of Representatives has led to only 52 bills being passed. Unless Congress kicks into overdrive in the final weeks of the year (during which they will only be in session for 10 days), this will be smallest number of bills passed since World War Two. That state of affairs has led to a spate of stories about this being the most unproductive Congress in history and strengthened the “throw the bums out” sentiment that has led the national legislature to have approval ratings just slightly above those of convicted criminals.

Some of the criticism lobbed at Congress is justified. On some issues, the leaderships of the two parties have botched opportunities to find common ground and to address ongoing issues that required new legislation. Even on issues where there is profound disagreement such as immigration, there was almost certainly room for compromise that would have made possible the passage of some needed reforms of a broken federal system. Even worse than that, there can be little disagreement about the fact that the failure to pass a budget is a disgrace.

But before we all join in the party dumping on Congress and calling for its membership to be collectively defeated for reelection, some perspective is needed. For all of its shortcomings, its inability to cram even more legislation into the already crowded pages of the Federal Register is not the worst thing you can say about a governing body. Not doing the president’s bidding and passing the laundry list of Obama administration second-term objectives in 2013 is a good thing, not a failure. Despite the assumption on the part of most liberal pundits pursuing the do-nothing Congress meme this month that its sole job is to pile up more laws, regulations, and taxes, sometimes the best thing it can do is to prevent the passage of unneeded or harmful laws. In that respect, this Congress has largely succeeded.

At the heart of the debate about what happened during the first session of the 113th Congress in the history of our republic is an assumption that its primary duty is to pass laws to keep expanding the power of the federal government and to feed its insatiable appetite for more money. Congress’s job is to consider legislation, not to merely pile more layers on the federal government. But its critics seem to think that any reluctance to keep feeding the governmental leviathan is a sin. If some members of Congress are insisting on a fundamental reform of this mess rather than merely being good soldiers and rubber-stamping a continuation of past boondoggles, that is not something for which they should be castigated.

Nor is fair to place all the blame on Congress, as liberal Post blogger Ezra Klein does, for the nation’s lackluster economic recovery. Klein cites statistics that bolster his claim that the congressional tussles over the budget and then ObamaCare that led to the government shutdown set back the economy. The shutdown was an ill-advised maneuver that accomplished nothing for the Republicans or the country, but to assume that without it and the GOP’s disagreement over Democratic objectives that the economy would be purring along on all cylinders is unwarranted. What goes on in Washington does affect the economy. But the underlying problems that have made this the most anemic recovery from a downturn in recent history have far more to do with President Obama’s policies and structural problems than anything dreamed up by the House GOP leadership.

Klein also harps on the fact that the House has, in his opinion, wasted a lot of time in futile attempts to repeal ObamaCare. But in making that argument, he is actually highlighting why a Congress that will pass controversial pieces of legislation at all costs is far worse than one than is reluctant to pass anything. The 111th Congress that sat during the first two years of the Obama administration was under the sole control of the Democrats and largely did the president’s bidding. That caused it to push through a massive stimulus package that cost the country close to a trillion dollars but did little to help the economy. It followed up that dubious achievement by railroading ObamaCare through both bodies via legislative tricks on a party-line vote. The pitfalls of approving a bill that then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said would have to be passed before it could be understood is now readily apparent to both parties.

Rather than harping on the 113th Congress’s failure to do as the president said, what we should be doing now is regretting the willingness of its predecessors to pass bills that were not fully thought out and which didn’t have the broad support of the American people. By not adding new ObamaCares to the nation’s burden, the 113th did its job. Would that the 111th been similarly stalemated.

As Klein rightly notes, this is a highly polarized Congress. In the past, both parties had large non-ideological contingents that worked together rather than contended over ideas. Such moderates are less common today in part because of gerrymandered districts. But it is also the product of a sense on the part of both liberals and conservatives that filling Congress with time-serving career politicians more intent on feathering their own nests than on addressing core issues was a bad idea.

In some ways that is an unfortunate development as civility on the Hill has declined. But it is not so much a product of dysfunction as it is of democracy. Members of Congress have a duty to see that the government keeps functioning, something that some of them forgot during the shutdown. But its obligation is to serve and reflect the views of the voters, not the federal bureaucracy, the executive branch, or even the press. At the moment, Americans are divided on many key issues and that is reflected in the decision of the voters last year to keep in place a Republican House alongside a Democratic Senate and president. That is frustrating for partisans on both sides as well as to those who work in and serve the federal establishment. Though the members of the governing class would like this problem to be overcome by a new birth of bipartisanship that would allow the liberal project to continue unhindered, they should not be surprised that those who fault past Congresses—including those run by Republicans in the last decade—for feeding the government’s tax-and-spend addictions don’t share their opinions.

Let’s hope Congress finds a way to pass a budget by the end of the year. Even if it does, it won’t go down as one of the great ones in our history and it—and its successors—are likely to continue in their role as the nation’s political whipping boys (and girls). But the desire to blast it as the worst ever has more to do with liberal anger at the willingness of the GOP to say no to President Obama and the Democrats. If that’s what it takes to prevent more ObamaCares, let’s hope the second session of this Congress and all those that follow are similarly dysfunctional.

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Can GOP Win Budget Language War?

There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

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There are a lot of reasons why Republicans lost the government shutdown. The fact that it was a stupid tactic without a chance of success is at the top of the list. But a large reason why the Democrats seized the metaphorical high ground and never relinquished it was their ability to label the GOP as essentially taking the government hostage because of their demand that ObamaCare be defunded. Their ability to do this is based in no small measure by the way the liberal mainstream media parroted the Democrats’ spin in which Republicans were branded as terrorists. But now that the shutdown is over and the GOP (or at least its leadership) realizes another such effort would be suicidal, one of their priorities should be to start refighting the language war as they prepare to negotiate a budget agreement.

That appears to be what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was doing yesterday when he staked out some familiar territory in opposing the president’s demand for new “revenue” if the two parties are to ever agree on how to keep the government funded in the future. Speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation, McConnell said:

Unfortunately, every discussion we’ve had about this in the past has had what I would call a ransom attached to it: $1 trillion in new tax revenues. We don’t have this problem because we don’t tax enough in this country; we have this problem because we spend too much.

McConnell’s right, and though this may seem like he’s been saying the same thing for years, his attempt to turn the kidnapper meme around on the president is significant. Rather than tearing each other apart or blaming McConnell (as Ted Cruz does) for the failure of a no-win strategy, this is exactly the line of argument the GOP caucus needs to stick to in the coming months if they are not to be bulldozed once again by the White House.

At the heart of this problem for Republicans is the fact that their opponents’ demands have been every bit as ideological as their own in the various budget negotiations. If Republicans are adamant that spending must be reined in and that, as McConnell rightly asserts, the country’s problem isn’t that taxes are too low, then how can that position be branded as extremist when Democrats are digging in their heels, demanding that entitlement programs be preserved intact and that taxes must go up? Rather than merely rail at the unfairness of it all, it’s time conservatives started calling out Obama in the same manner that they have been labeled.

Can it work?

Well, as some on the right would be the first to point out, it doesn’t matter what they say if it is only being transmitted to much of the public via the filter of mainstream liberal publications and broadcast outlets. But such a defeatist attitude fails to take into account that earlier generations of conservatives—in particular Ronald Reagan—managed to change the way the country thought about the welfare state in an even more hostile media environment. If Reagan could convince Americans that government was the problem in an era when national television news meant three liberal talking heads and without the help of Fox News and conservative talk radio, how is it that those who claim to be his successors are incapable of changing the way contemporary issues are framed?

It may not be fair to compare anyone to the “Great Communicator,” but the lesson here is not that Republicans need another Reagan. That would be nice, but a more realistic hope is for their talking heads and leaders to concentrate their fire on the unwillingness of the president and his supporters to drop their addiction to taxes and spending. Language not only counts, it is decisive in determining the outcome of political battles. Tea Partiers who are currently obsessed with anger at those on the right who understood that the shutdown was a fiasco need to refocus their ire at the White House. If Republicans hope not to be schooled again by Obama, they’d better start following McConnell’s lead and turning the hostage metaphor around.

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Obama Goes Back to the Blame Game

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.

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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.

To give President Obama his due, his continued willingness to talk to Republicans is a positive development, albeit four years too late. So, too, is his emphasis on the importance of economic growth. Prosperity would go a long way toward solving the budget problem, but any scheme put forward based on that assumption is a prayer not a plan. Nevertheless, every moment that he spends talking about building the economy rather than building the government must be counted as a plus for the cause of fiscal sanity.

However, the more the president talks about his ideas about a compromise with what he patronizingly referred to as the “common sense caucus” among Republicans, the more it sounds as if his definition of the word is very different from that of Webster. His statements made it clear that he is not particularly interested in dealing with the deficit. Even worse than that, his approach to one of the key planks of a prospective deal—entitlement reform—amounts to nothing more than lip service.

The president dismissed Ryan’s plan for balancing the budget in 10 years not just because it was predicated on repealing ObamaCare but because he doesn’t think there’s any real need to reach even that long-term goal. As he told Stephanopoulos:

We don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt. In fact, for the next ten years, it’s gonna be in a sustainable place.

But the problem goes deeper than the president’s apparent complacence. Although he said “entitlement reform” would be part of a deal, he slipped back into his usual campaign rhetoric when discussing how that would be accomplished:

No. We’re not gonna balance the budget in ten years because if you look at what Paul Ryan does to balance the budget, it means that you have to voucherize Medicare; you have to slash deeply– into programs like Medicaid; you’ve essentially got to– either tax– middle-class families a lot higher than you currently are; or you can’t lower rates the way he’s promised.

In other words, the president’s concept of reform is indistinguishable from his re-election vows to preserve the status quo that earned him the loyalty of his party’s base.

Moreover, discussion of balancing the budget elicits more of the president’s scorn as well as a standard piece of Obama demagoguery:

And, so– you know, my goal is not to chase– a balanced budget just for the sake of balance. My goal is how do we grow the economy, put people back to work, and if we do that we’re gonna be bringin’ in more revenue. If we’ve controlled spending and we’ve got a smart entitlement package, then potentially what you have is balance. But it’s not balance on the backs of, you know, the poor, the elderly, students who need student loans, families who’ve got disabled kids.

Lost from his analysis is any acknowledgement that what he is doing is paying for all the benefits he wishes to distribute by piling up debt that will be put upon the backs of the kids and students who will be the taxpayers paying down the deficit he has grown a decade from now and beyond that. The generational theft that he is supervising will hurt the middle class that he is constantly telling us he cares about far more than the wealthy whose taxes he wishes to raise.

Indeed, far from working toward establishing common ground with Republicans, the president seemed to be much more interested in preparing to lay the blame for any failure to make a deal on the GOP:

But ultimately, it may be that– the differences are just– too wide. It may be that ideologically, if their position is, “We can’t do any revenue,” or, “We can only do revenue if we gut Medicare or gut Social Security or gut Medicaid,” if that’s the position, then we’re probably not gonna be able to get a deal.

Ryan and other Republicans may have their differences with the president but, as he well knows, their goal is to reform entitlements in order to preserve them. Without taking steps to make these programs fiscally viable by increasing the age of eligibility and means testing, they will eventually drown the federal government in a sea of debt that it cannot tax its way out of. Rhetoric about gutting Social Security and Medicare is not reaching out. It is just the same old Obama class warfare that helped create the current deadlock.

The president’s falling poll numbers and the shrinking gap between those who blame Republicans and those who blame the White House for the impasse created the need for an Obama charm offensive. The crying of wolf about the sequester from the White House flopped not just because it wasn’t credible but because the public—even many of those who voted for the president—understood that the only way to deal with the debt and to fix the nation’s problems is to start shrinking government rather than expanding it. Though he may be preparing the ground for blaming the GOP for the failure to find a compromise (and, he hopes, win the 2014 midterm elections), he may find that this tired act is wearing out its welcome.

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Ryan Shows GOP Is In for the Long Haul

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.

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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.

In one sense, Ryan’s critics are right to say his plan is not realistic. Since so much of it is predicated on the idea of repealing ObamaCare it must be admitted that it will not only be dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate after presumably being passed by the GOP-controlled House. Its provisions about ending the president’s signature health care legislation will also ensure that it won’t be a starting point for a putative deal between the White House and Republicans since there is no chance in the foreseeable future that ObamaCare can be eliminated.

But if Republicans are to continue to provide a viable alternative to Obama and the Democrats, it cannot be based on the idea that they are only going to argue about the margins of the debate rather than its substance. As Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus has said, Ryan’s budget is in effect a lemon law reminding the American people that there is an alternative to Obama’s health care boondoggle. As ObamaCare starts going into effect and the costs and the negative impact of the legislation are felt, Ryan’s critique will be seen as a dose of political realism rather than the partisan exercise that it is now being called.

It is entirely possible that if the president is serious about compromise that a “grand bargain” about the budget and tax reform can be struck. If so, then it may be that Republicans will give in on some of their positions on taxing just as Democrats will have to do more than pay lip service to entitlement reform.

But whether that happens or not, Republicans are still obligated to do more than provide a faint echo of liberal pieties. The voters chose a divided government last fall, not hegemony for the Democrats. That means any discussion about the budget must have two sides rather than the liberal narrative promoted by the president and his cheerleaders in the media. Ryan’s budget will never become law, but it is an important document that sets out the only real path to national solvency as well as for preserving Medicare. When contrasted with the president’s mindless defense of the status quo on entitlements as well as his inability to put forward to present a path to a balanced budget, Ryan’s plan doesn’t look so crazy.

Democrats who think they can win in 2014 by demagoguery aimed at Ryan are taking it for granted that public opinion is static rather than dynamic. Polls and even election results are variables, but political principles should reflect core beliefs about the future that are consistent with the value we place as a nation on freedom and limited government. There are many aspects of the Republican campaign last year that need revising, but a stand against the growth of government and holding down taxes is not a liability. Ryan has thrown down the gauntlet to the president and told the nation what he stands for. Win or lose, that’s the act of a party that is in this struggle for the long haul and can still eventually prevail.

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Heading Over the Cliff With Plan B?

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.

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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.

All along it has been President Obama rather than Boehner who has sounded like the side most ready to go to the brink. With polls showing the public blaming Republicans for the impasse and a second term already won, the president appeared to believe that he had the whip hand in any negotiation. Indeed, up until the last week when he offered to raise taxes only on those making more than $400,000 rather than $250,000, Obama had showed no sign of being willing to budge. After that, most pundits assumed that there would be further movement from both sides that would create a deal that would be somewhere between $400,000 and the $1 million income mark that Boehner has offered. But if the speaker had come to believe that there would be no more concessions from a president who thought he could bludgeon his opponents by further grandstanding and delegitimization of their position, then perhaps he came to the conclusion that it was time for him to shut down the talks and make the White House sweat.

Republicans are aware that they will be blamed in the short term for allowing an across-the-board tax increase and the impact this will have on the economy. But they also understand that any hopes for a successful second term for the president hinge on a deal that might boost the chances of a genuine recovery for the nation rather than the anemic revival it has experienced under Obama. This may be emboldening Boehner to think that it is he, and not the man who was just re-elected president, who is in control of the talks.

In doing so, Boehner may have put the ball back into the Democrats’ court. But it’s not easy to see how the GOP leadership team will sell a deal in which the president came closer to their position if they’re having such a hard time putting across Plan B.

If the end result of all this maneuvering is that no deal will be reached, it must be said that this is a disaster for the country. Allowing taxes to rise for all taxpayers is not just wrong (indeed, Republican hardliners are right when they say that any increase on anyone, no matter how rich, isn’t going to help the economy or do much to balance the budget), it will harm the nation’s economic health. The defense cuts that will result from such a failure will also be ruinous for national security. But Boehner may be counting on President Obama being more fearful of this than a Republican Party that may think it has nothing left to lose after their November defeat. Unless the president jumps first in the next couple of days in this game of chicken the two are playing, the fiscal cliff doomsday scenario may come to pass.

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On Ryan Plan, Can the Lie Become the Truth? (Hey-Hey)

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.

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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 design of the Ryan plan is as follows. Everyone age 55 and older remains in the current Medicare system. Period. Nothing changes. Nothing. Assume for the sake of argument that a President Romney actually adopts the Ryan plan in its particulars, and fights for it in the way President Obama fought for Obamacare.

It took 15 months for Obamacare to be signed into law. So let’s say it takes until April 2014 for the Ryan Medicare plan to become law, and it says what it says now—that everyone in the Medicare system now stays in and everyone a decade away from the Medicare system will join it.

As a practical matter, this means that in 2012, anyone 53 or older, not even anyone 55 or older, will have total access to the current Medicare system.

The political argument against the Ryan plan is that it endangers Romney’s chances in Florida; indeed, the Obama campaign has already begun running scary ads about Ryan taking away Medicare.

But it’s not true. It’s true for me; I’m 51. It’s true for the people who were two grades above me in high school. But it’s not true for anyone older than me; not a single retiree in Florida or anywhere else, in other words.

That’s just the plain fact of it. There’s no argument. The complex new system won’t even come into existence, by Ryan’s own design, until ten years after his plan becomes law.

So how can it threaten current Medicare recipients? It can’t.

Like I say, this is an interesting test. There’s the undeniable truth, and there’s the bald-faced lie. Which will be believed?

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Dems Spin Obama Budget Rejection

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.

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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.

It’s not just Republicans who are countering the claim. The Senate parliamentarian also ruled in April that the debt ceiling deal doesn’t mean the Senate can’t take up budget resolutions this year.

Meanwhile, the White House was expecting the failure, and recently began arguing that the resolution introduced in the Senate is actually a distorted version of the president’s budget. They say the rejection isn’t a reflection of Democrats’ views of Obama’s plan:

Last May, Obama’s budget was voted down, 0-97. Democrats noted they could vote no after Obama delivered an April speech calling for deeper deficit reduction than he had presented two months earlier in his budget.

This year, Obama is sticking by his budget, so Democrats are embracing another reason to vote it down.

The White House moved Monday to free Democrats to vote no by saying the legislation embodying Obama’s budget is “different” because it doesn’t contain identical policy language.

Republicans argue that the rejected budget resolution is identical to Obama’s plan, and say the only difference is that campaign-tinged political language was removed.

“If you look at the president’s budget it reads like his campaign website,” a Republican aide told me. “But the numbers are identical to the budget.”

The excuses are pretty flimsy, and Democrats are no doubt bracing for a public backlash. But clearly the party thinks they’re safer dealing with the fallout from rejecting Obama’s budget than being forced to defend his budget in the fall.

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“The Life of Julia”

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.

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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.

It’s the chart showing the trajectory of publicly held debt as a percentage of GDP if Obama’s FY13 budget was extended through 2084. And while it’s much more optimistic than the conservative estimates, it’s still not pretty:


Let’s catch up with Julia at her various ages and see how the publicly held debt will be doing at that point:

Age three: That’s this year, 2012. According to Obama’s chart, publicly held debt is roughly 80 percent of the GDP.

Age 17: It’s 2029, and publicly held debt is now nearly 90 percent of the GDP. Fortunately, Obama’s Race to the Top program means that Julia can “take the classes she needs to do well.” Unfortunately, both liberals and conservatives have blasted Race to the Top as a failure, and interest in refunding it has reportedly been dwindling.

Age 25 – It’s 2037, and publicly held debt as a percentage of GDP is now hovering around 100 percent. But the good news is that Julia’s personal debt burden will be reduced, as President Obama will keep interest low on student loans.

Age 37 – It’s 2049, and publicly held debt is now 130 percent of GDP. However, Obama says that Julia’s kindergarten-age son Zachary will still be able to take advantage of Race to the Top program. (Note also that even under the most generous circumstances, it has now been at least 33 years since President Obama’s last term in office).

Age 42 – It’s 2054, and publicly held debt is now 140 percent of the GDP.

Age 65 – It’s 2077, and publicly held debt is now 180 percent of the GDP. But Julia will still be covered by Medicare “as we know it,” at least if President Obama was reelected in 2012. That’s right, no Medicare reform for the next half-century, according to Obama.

Age 67 – It’s 2079, and publicly held debt is now 190 percent of the GDP. And thanks to President Obama’s 2012 reelection, Social Security is miraculously still solvent and unchanged.

Age 72 – Obama’s Life of Julia chart only shows us her life up until age 67. That’s too bad, since Julia hits a milestone around 2084, when publicly held debt will be just about 200 percent of the deficit – and rising.

We all know why debt will continue to careen out of control in the coming years. It’s entitlement spending, and even the White House acknowledges it in its FY13 budget. And yet Obama’s Life of Julia chart pretends that we can continue along the current path without fundamental changes. Instead, any reform proposals are demagogued as an attack on women’s health or children’s education.

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Obama Mocks Boehner at Union Event

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.”

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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.”

If you really want to get technical about who is blocking what, the House actually has passed a highway bill with bipartisan support, the same one that Obama threatened to veto because it includes a provision that would force him to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The bill is short-term compared to the one passed by the Senate, but both chambers are set to deliberate a compromise. Notice that Obama conveniently ignores these relevant facts.

And speaking of Do Nothing Congress, yesterday marked the three-year anniversary of the last time the Senate Democrats passed a budget. For whatever reason, our obstruction-decrying president didn’t feel the need to mention that holdup.

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Dems Back Down on Plan to Pretend to Do Something About Budget

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.

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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.

Conrad is still calling this a markup, but now it’s really just a show for cameras. The fact that there won’t even be a vote, or any amendments taken, makes this little more than a novelty exercise.

It sounds like Reid felt it was too risky to allow the committee vote and give Republicans an opening to build up pressure for a floor vote, so he asked Conrad to back off. Meanwhile, Republicans were obviously hoping for a budget discussion, and aren’t happy with the sudden change of events. And it’s hard to blame them. Democrats have shown, time and time again, that they’re not interested in taking action on a budget. Today’s markup charade is just the latest example.

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The President’s Intellectual Exhaustion

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.

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.

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Ryan Budget Will Be GOP Blueprint

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.”

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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.”

If you want a perfect example of the contrast Republicans are trying to create between their own vision and the vision of the Democratic Party, take a look at this exchange between Ryan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. On the floor yesterday, DWS launched into a dramatic spiel about how the Medicare growth rate in Ryan’s plan would ravage the lives of the elderly. But as Ryan points out, the growth rate he proposes is the same as the one in another plan DWS should be very, very familiar with:

Of course, the way Ryan and Obama each choose to deal with the growth rate is very different. While Obama’s seeking to put price-control power under the jurisdiction of a board of unelected bureaucrats, Ryan’s proposal would rein in costs through competitive bidding provisions. Private choice as opposed to government management. And that’s the contrast the GOP will work to highlight between now and the fall.

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In Praise of Speaker John Boehner

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.

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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.

More broadly, Boehner has shown himself to be a first-rate Speaker – trustworthy, keeping his caucus together during trying moments, avoiding (for the most part) missteps, and demonstrating both pragmatism and a commitment to conservative principles. Boehner isn’t perfect, he’s not the flashiest speaker in history, and he doesn’t see his role as saving Western civilization and standing between us and Auschwitz. But he’s a very able and experienced politician, a steady hand on the wheel, and he’s shown courage in his own understated way.

That isn’t acknowledged nearly as often as it should be by conservatives.

 

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House Set to Approve Ryan’s Budget

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.

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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.

Like last year, Ryan’s budget is unlikely to make it past the Senate. But that’s still one house of Congress more than the president will be able to get his own budget through. Senate Democrats say they won’t bring Obama’s budget to the floor this year, though Senate Republicans may attempt to force a vote on it. When this happened last year, the president’s proposal was defeated unanimously.

Democrats are now frantically trying to shake off the impression that this was a failure for the president. The White House claims the House Republicans brought Obama’s budget to a vote as a political tactic designed to embarrass the president:

“But let’s be very clear: A vote on Congressman Mulvaney’s resolution is not a vote on the president’s budget. This is just a gimmick the Republicans are putting forward to distract from what the Ryan budget does: protects massive tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while making the middle class and seniors pay,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.

House Democrats were reluctant to vote for Obama’s budget because it had no chance of passing and would simply be used against them in election-year attacks. While the same is true of the Republicans and the Ryan budget, apparently they’re willing to take the risk.

But the unanimous rejection isn’t just an embarrassment for the White House, it also complicates Obama’s campaign pitch that he’s running against a “Do Nothing Republican Congress.” The GOP will now argue that it passed a budget in the House, while Democrats in both the House and Senate haven’t voted for a single proposal this year.

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Conservatism and the Common Good

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.

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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.

In this case, the confusion is that “preferential treatment for the poor” is synonymous with a massive, centralized state. Au contraire. A positive role for government means a limited role for government. I recall a similar debate in the 1990s, when conservatives championed welfare reform over the fierce criticisms of the left. (In effect, the new law ended the legal entitlement to federally funded welfare benefits, imposing a five-year time limit on the receipt of such benefits and requiring a large percentage of current recipients to seek and obtain work.) Liberal religious figures like Jim Wallis said that reforms championed by conservatives would lead to an explosion of poverty and hunger. Millions of innocent children would suffer. What was being proposed was cruel, brutal, Darwinian.

In fact, the 1996 welfare-reform bill was the most dramatic and successful social innovation in decades, reversing 60 years of federal policy that had long since grown not just useless but positively counterproductive. State welfare rolls plummeted—and poverty, instead of rising, decreased. A decade after the 1996 welfare-reform bill was passed into law, overall poverty, child poverty, black child poverty, and child hunger all decreased, while employment figures for single mothers rose. Rather than giving up on the poor, the new policy assumed that the able-bodied were capable of working, expected them to work, and was rooted in a confident belief that, materially and otherwise, they would be better off for it. In each of these particulars, welfare reform advocates were proved correct.

The thundering moral condemnations of the left were wrong then and they are wrong now. What progressives don’t seem to understand is that if we don’t reform entitlement programs, it will leave virtually no room for anything else, including domestic discretionary spending. The crowding out effects of keeping the current Medicare program in place will be massive, then catastrophic, and eventually unsustainable. Unless we alter the current course of fiscal events, we will end up like European nations, in which cuts in government programs are drastic, painful, immediate, and disproportionately targeted on the vulnerable and powerless.

In our current moment, understanding fiscal reality, including the ability to read charts and graphs and do basic math, has become something of an ethical imperative. What Representative Ryan appreciates, unlike some of his critics, is that putting forth a responsible governing document is more challenging (and more satisfying) than moral preening.

Paul Ryan’s budget provides a path to opportunity and greater prosperity; if it were to become law, it would avert considerable heartache and human suffering. That is an impressive moral achievement, one that puts human dignity at the heart of public policy. Genuine solidarity with the poor was once a hallmark of liberalism. I hope it becomes so again one day.

 

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The Romney-Ryan Tax Budget

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

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).

While decrying the problems that inflation was causing, many liberal politicians secretly liked inflation because at that time income tax brackets were not indexed for it. Thus, as wages were increased to match the rise in the cost of living, that pushed people into higher and higher tax brackets. In other words, marginal tax rates meant to sock it to the rich were now socking it to the middle class and federal revenues were rising even faster than inflation without Congress having to vote to raise taxes. For many liberals–who never saw a government revenue increase they didn’t like–that was a win-win situation.

Jack Kemp, a Republican congressman from Buffalo, New York, a former quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and a future vice-presidential nominee (in 1996), and William Roth, Senator from Delaware, proposed to slash marginal rates and, crucially, to index tax rates to inflation to prevent bracket creep. When Ronald Reagan endorsed the proposal, the Carter campaign pounced, redubbing the Kemp-Roth tax proposal the Reagan-Kemp-Roth tax proposal, convinced that it would be a drag on Reagan’s election prospects.

They were, of course, suffering from the “Pauline Kael effect,” named for the long-time movie critic of The New Yorker, who is supposed to have said after the 1972 election, “I can’t believe Nixon won. I don’t know anyone who voted for him.” Millions of voters outside the Beltway and the Upper West Side of New York thought the Reagan-Kemp-Roth proposal was a great idea. Ronald Reagan signed it into law only eight months into his presidency, while Jimmy Carter felt sorry for himself sitting in Plains, Georgia.

I suspect the same situation obtains today. The people are far more ready to seriously tackle the federal government’s chronic revenue imbalance than is the liberal establishment.

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Has Romney Found A Message?

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.

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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.

Felicia Sonmez reports:

“I joke, and I don’t mean to be flip with this — because I actually see truth in it — I don’t see how a young American can vote for a Democrat,” Romney said when asked what economic message he would have for young people.

“I apologize for being so offensive in saying that, but I catch your attention. But I mean, in the humor, there’s some truth there. And I say that for this reason: that party is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, and amounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for.”

He argued that while Democrats support “the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,” the Republican Party is “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.”

“These debts are not frightening to people my age, because we’ll be gone,” he said.

This is an issue that will not go away, because rather than pass their own budget (which they haven’t done in more than 1,000 days) Democrats prefer to attack Ryan for trying to solve problems instead of Washington’s usual tradition of kicking every can in sight farther down the road. The Democrats, led by Harry Reid, have even targeted members of their own party who tried to work with Ryan to formulate a solution to the country’s debt and entitlement crises.

On that score, Ryan today introduced his newest budget plan. As Jim Pethokoukis notes:

Longer term, the differences between the Ryan Path and the Obama budget are even starker. By 2030, debt-to-GDP would be 53% under Ryan, 128% under Obama. By 2040, debt-to-GDP would be 38% under Ryan, 194% under Obama. By 2050, debt-to-GDP would be 10% under Ryan, over 200% under Obama – assuming that under the Obama scenario, the economy hasn’t collapsed.

That last line is key to Ryan and Romney’s overall message—that you can only calculate long-term projections of Obama’s spending plans by assuming the economy hasn’t collapsed from them yet.

In 2008, the general election time frame saw one foreign policy crisis and one economic crisis. John McCain looked better on the foreign policy issue because Obama ended up changing his original response to eventually align with the response McCain gave immediately. Obama looked better on the financial crisis because of McCain’s haphazard and frantic response. The candidate who won the economic issue won the election (as usual). Foreign policy will not be high enough on the American voters’ list of priorities to focus on that, but Romney’s pitch to the disaffected youth vote and his party’s attempts to establish itself as a forward-looking group of reformers may offer a serious message that doesn’t depend on monthly jobs numbers or the price of gas.

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The Dangers of Sequestration

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.

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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.

That’s exactly right. Add in the fact that defense companies will have to start cutbacks this year to meet the projected budget shortfall next year, and you have all the makings for an only-in-Washington disaster. Congress cannot wait until after the election to fix this mess. Action is needed now, and President Obama must lead the way, or else he will be remembered as the president responsible for the dismantling of the world’s greatest military.

 

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