Obama's Wednesday Budget Speech: Too Soon to Assume the Worst
THE PRESIDENT'S PITCH ON LONG-TERM DEFICIT REDUCTION.... There's probably no real point to criticizing a speech that hasn't been delivered, and probably hasn't even been written. Likewise, as President Obama prepares to unveil a long-term deficit reduction plan on Wednesday, one can't critique an agenda without knowing what's in it.
But the anxiety, especially on the left, is understandable. As we discussed yesterday, the speech seems likely to once again move the fight to the Republicans' playing field -- the GOP picks the goal, Dems offer a sensible way to get there, the resulting "compromise" is awful, and the progressive agenda never enters the picture.
That said, Wednesday doesn't have to be discouraging.
Two months ago, the president spoke to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the concern on the left was that we'd hear capitulation, triangulation, and submission. Just the opposite happened -- though it didn't generate much attention, Obama delivered a genuinely liberal speech, offering a hearty defense of progressive government activism. Daily Kos' Jed Lewison explained at the time, "I never would have predicted that President Obama would give a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in which he explained why economic inequality threatens America and telling them that they share some of the responsibility for closing the gap. But that's exactly what he did."
So, while it's clearly not unreasonable to fear Obama will disappoint on Wednesday, the optimist in me holds out hope the president will use this week as an opportunity and rise to the occasion. Josh Marshall's lay of the land last night rang true.
Congressional Republicans are using fear of the national debt as an opportunity to push through a series of radical and far-reaching policy changes that have nothing to do with addressing the national debt. Run that through your mind a few times. It's the key understanding everything we're going to see this year. If nothing else you know the Ryan plan isn't focused on reducing the national debt since it actually includes a big new tax cut -- a cut in revenues. Indeed, Ryan's plan is the equivalent at the federal level of what his ally Gov. Walker (R) did in Wisconsin -- use the short-term budgetary shortfall as an excuse to end collective bargaining rights. Similarly, Ryan's plan does nothing to rein in medical costs for seniors or even reduce the benefit levels of Medicare. It simply abolishes it outright.
As long as the president just focuses on dollars, he loses. He also helps misinform the public about what's actually happening. He deprives his supporters and the public at large of any real understanding of what if anything he and congressional Republicans even disagree about other than their wanting to cut a ton of spending on various programs and his wanting to cut 2/3 a ton of spending on various programs.
You'll know he's serious when he says he won't let Republicans abolish Medicare.
And Obama may do just that. David Plouffe hit the Sunday shows yesterday, and slammed the House GOP budget plan in harsh-but-accurate terms. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer explained that the the president's approach will be “starkly different” from the Republican vision.
In other words, it's too soon to assume the worst.
The way forward for the president seems relatively clear. He can make minor financing tweaks to Medicare, but make clear that the House GOP plan is a non-starter. He can explain that a fiscally responsible vision has to include a combination of tax increases and spending cuts. He can make the case that a massive, bloated Defense budget offers great options for budget savings.
In short, if Obama wants to present an agenda for long-term debt reduction, he could do worse than by dusting off Rep. Jan Schakowsky's (D-Ill.) plan, and adopting much of it as his own.