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.