Monday, April 11, 2011

Obama lines up for a Mulligan

President Obama didn't propose cuts in his budget proposal this year. He basically ignored the recommendations of his own debt commission. He supported more spending in his first two years than we've seen in generations. He pushed through an entire new entitlement program using every parliamentary trick that his allies in Congress could find. He originally supported getting rid of the Bush tax cuts for the higher income groups and then compromised by extending them for two years. His aides crowed about that deal in December and how it showed that he could be a leader.

So with his absence from the field for the first two and a half years of his presidency, he's been absent from the deficit reduction debate. His side has been for more spending and he hasn't been willing to talk about any sort of plan to reverse that course. But now he's been forced, unwillingly, to agree to the cuts in this year's budget. And Paul Ryan's proposal has forced him to come out and pretend that he has a plan for deficit reduction. His proposals are already limited because he has already avoided his opportunities to take on entitlements. His health care proposal took $500 billion from Medicare so he's going to have a hard time pretending that he's about to trim the Medicare funding deficit. He'll be left with his main proposal to rescind the Bush-era tax cuts which he agreed to extending as part of that deal in December he's so proud of.

As Philip Klein points out
, on Social Security Obama has already ruled out cutting benefits which would include trimming payouts or raising the retirement age. So what's left? Oh, yes - raising payroll taxes.
On the spending side, Obama has already either ruled out many of the obvious entitlement reforms or is using them to finance the health care law.

For instance, in his State of the Union address Obama had this to say about Social Security:
To put us on solid ground, we should also find a bipartisan solution to strengthen Social Security for future generations. We must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.
If you aren't going to to touch benefits, that implicitly means no changes to the retirement age either. So the only thing that leaves is raising taxes. Yet Obama's big Social Security plan during the campaign – to raise the payroll tax on higher incomes – was already used to help finance ObamaCare.

At the same time, the health care law squeezed hundreds of billions from Medicare. It's hard to see where Obama would come up with additional savings.
So expect a lot of nice rhetoric in Obama's Wednesday speech and not a lot of substance. Obama has had his opportunities to address the deficit and he's whiffed on all of them. Now he's asking for a Mulligan because it's dawning on him and the Democrats, as Michael Barone points out, that spending cuts are popular in the political marketplace. Obama and spending cuts aren't a natural pair, but the Republicans have pushed him into trying to take a Mulligan on all his muffed opportunities to address federal spending. As Michael Walsh writes in the NY Post,
Well, that didn't take long: Less than two days after President Obama reluc tantly agreed to accept a less-than-whopping $38.5 billion in cuts from this year's spending, the White House announced that Obama will take to the airwaves Wednesday to announce his new plan to deal with the deficit.

Paul Ryan, take a bow. With the release last week of his dramatic "Path to Prosperity" proposal to trim $6 trillion from the bloated federal budget over the next 10 years, a mere congressman from Wisconsin has finally obliged the president to get serious about spending. Or at least do a somewhat better job of pretending to.

Making the rounds of the Sunday shows yesterday, White House adviser David Plouffe announced that Obama will do what he does best in times of crisis -- make a speech, this one about deficit reduction and what he intends to do about Medicare and Medicaid.

Plouffe has just given us a new definition of "chutzpah." After two years of runaway spending and after proposing even more borrowing as recently as his February $3.7 trillion budget proposal -- Obama now wants us to think that he's seen the light and is serious about getting the country's financial house in order.

Please. This is all about 1) the 2012 election and 2) blunting any GOP momentum toward serious budgetary reform -- nothing more.

Obama, who's always keenly attuned to the shifting political winds, knows he has to change course and doesn't care how many fellow Democrats he has to jettison in order to do it. Thus his pirouette on the current year's spending plan -- in which he finally went along with the "draconian" cuts that the parade of talking-point donkeys like Chuck Schumer, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi had insisted would lead to the starvation of the elderly, the defenestration of children, the death of millions of women and the impoverishment of our soldiers.
We'll see how well Barack Obama can sell the American people that he's the one who is truly serious about the debt. In 2008 he was the blank slate on which everyone could write their hopes and dreams upon. In 2012 he'll have a record and it will not be a record of cutting federal spending.