Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why the two sides can't agree

Rich Lowry clarifies why John Boehner did not agree to the supposed grand bargain that Obama has been pitching.
The so-called grand bargain that Boehner eschewed wasn’t so grand. It would have raised taxes by $1 trillion while leaving untouched the federal government’s newest unsustainable entitlement program, Obamacare, and preserving the bankrupting structure of the legacy entitlement programs. It was a formula for more revenue chasing ever-higher levels of government expenditure.

The health-care bill already raised taxes by more than $400 billion over the next ten years, although that’s still not enough to truly cover Obamacare. The president wanted another round of new taxes layered on top without giving up fundamental ground on entitlement reform. This wasn’t a “balanced” approach. It was a proposed continuation of President Obama’s fiscal policy under bipartisan auspices.
Plus we have a history now of budget deals where the spending cuts never came and spending continued to rise. Why should Boehner agree once again to such deceptions?
This has led to a chorus of condemnation of Republican rigidity. But the GOP is under no obligation to give way on its conviction that, over the long term, the government has a spending rather than a tax-revenue problem. President Obama isn’t willing to take steps toward the Paul Ryan vision on Medicare and Medicaid, let alone scale back or reverse Obamacare. Where is all the opprobrium for his gross inflexibility?

The two parties have a conflict of visions. Republicans view the current levels of spending — an astonishing 24 percent of GDP — as a bizarre exception to peacetime norms in America. Democrats view it as the new normal. For them, any reduction in the inexorable growth of the entitlement state is a cruel betrayal. As President Obama himself put it, “The vast majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill would prefer to do nothing on entitlements.”
And why, two weeks before Obama says the debt ceiling must be raised, is he suddenly supposedly open to entitlement reform and deficit reduction?

Obama said in his press conference about the need for entitlement reform and budget-cutting, "If not now, when?" Obama likes this quote from the Jewish rabbi Hillel and used it in urging passage of Obamacare. But why is this the moment to rush something through?

John Hinderaker finds the timing bizarre.
If not now, when? How about two years ago? Or last year? Or in February, when Obama proposed a budget that contemplated, on the most optimistic assumptions, adding at least $600 billion of new debt every year for the next decade? Obama is now fixated on the “deadline” of August 2, 2011, but where was he in 2009? Or 2010? Or prior to last week? It has been over two years since the federal government has had a budget. For Obama to adopt a sanctimonious “eat your peas” approach to the federal budget is so disingenuous that it is not surprising that Republicans find him infuriating to negotiate with.
Of course, Obama wants to pretend that it is only Republican intransigence that is standing in the way of a deal. All this from the guy who, a few months ago, was insisting on a clean debt ceiling bill without any attachments. Instead we're weeks into what John Podhoretz rightly calls a "gigantic game of chicken."
Each side in this dispute desperately wants the other to betray a core political principle and a core constituency.

Republicans want Democrats to acknowledge that the federal government is too large and that it must be reduced in size -- not just now, but over the course of the next decade.

Now, Republicans believe this to be true. But they also crave the sweet, succulent experience of seeing Democrats vote to accept the conclusion that the radical expansion in the size of government over the past few years has done little but threaten to drive the country into bankruptcy.

For their part, Democrats want Republicans to agree to tax hikes. They believe that more well-to-do Americans should have their taxes increased. They want this so that the government should have as many resources as possible. They also want it as a matter of principle.

But just like the Republicans with deficit reduction, Democrats crave Republican capitulation. They want the GOP to bend to their will and acknowledge that their path is the more responsible one.

And standing above it all is Barack Obama. His purpose is clear. He wants tax increases because he believes in them and because he wants the GOP to find it hard to run on the tax-cut issue. And he wants to be able to claim the mantle of fiscal conservatism and responsibility.
But don't buy that pose of Obama as the fiscal conservative.
It's a clever gambit, and he seems very pleased with himself to have come upon it. But then, he talks like he takes voters for suckers. He tellingly said that they "shouldn't" care about the debt ceiling because they ought to be worrying about their family and their jobs and their neighborhood instead.

Perhaps voters don't care all that much about the specifics of the debt ceiling, although it sure seems like plenty of Republican voters do. One thing is probably for certain: No matter how he tries to spin it at a press conference, voters are not going to be persuaded that the man who oversaw and pushed for unprecedented peacetime growth in the size of government has suddenly become the nation's foremost fiscal hawk.

In casting himself as one, Obama calls to mind the way the late Leo Rosten defined "chutzpah" -- "that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."
Will he get away with his posing? That's what the next year will be about.