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Right Turn
Posted at 11:18 AM ET, 09/19/2011

Obama’s reverse course on the debt

President Obama’s debt plan is a mix of phantom cuts and huge tax increases. Moreover, it represents a giant step backward from the debt-ceiling positions he took over the summer. In short, it’s designed to ameliorate the left, not make a deal or recapture independent voters. How this helps his electoral prospects is a mystery.

Let’s take his position on taxes. A Capitol Hill Republican adviser privy to the debt-ceiling talks over the summer tells me, “Obama and Boehner were only discussing closing tax loopholes in the context of tax reform that would lower individual and corporate rates in exchange. In addition, his tax hike on the ‘wealthy’ was never something that was in play either.” Moreover, of his claimed $3 trillion in tax cuts, $1.5 trillion is now made up of tax cuts.

But it is even more heavily tilted toward tax hikes when you consider that he is still including as “spending cuts” in “savings” from a wind-down of the Iraq and Afghanistan missions, money that was never going to be spent. If I don’t buy that Lexus I was never going to buy anyway, have I “saved” tens of thousands of dollars?

As for the real drivers of the debt — entitlements — Obama is no longer making any meaningful proposals. He already cut $500 billion from Medicare as part of ObamaCare by proposing cuts to providers that probably aren’t sustainable (and would, if enacted, cause a shortage of providers). Gone is any talk about significant reforms of the Medicare system that would increase efficiency, control costs through competition or even raise the retirement age. His plan: Use the Independent Payment Advisory Board to limit care and squeeze doctors and hospitals. In other words, he’s not reducing costs; he is limiting or denying care.

Indeed, the White House admits the president is moving farther away from a potential deal. “The White House also warned not to expect the president to offer up things that he had agreed to as compromises over the summer when he and Boehner were striving for a ‘grand bargain.’ ‘It will be his vision,’ explained [a senior White House] official. ‘Because it is a vision and not a legislative compromise being crafted to garner some number of votes in the House and the Senate, it is inherently different from the grand bargain he was working on with the speaker.’ ” In other words, his vision is one that doesn’t entail actually making a deal.

Not surprisingly the Romney campaign in advance of the president’s speech blasted the president’s “vision.” In a written statement, Romney argued, “President Obama’s plan to raise taxes will have a crushing impact on economic growth. Higher taxes mean fewer jobs — it’s that simple. This is yet another indication that President Obama has no clue how to bring our economy back. I encourage President Obama to look at my detailed economic plan to create long-term growth and prosperity for our nation. The only way to get our economy moving again is to elect a president who understands how to create jobs and rein in spending — that is why I am running.”

The press has by now caught on to Obama’s unserious approach to the debt. Politico reports:

Suffering an erosion of support from the broad coalition that elected him, Obama has crafted a plan that reads more like a blueprint for shoring up his restless Democratic base than a vehicle for reaching across the aisle in search of bipartisan compromise.
His proposal forces Republicans to side with corporations and the wealthy, sidesteps the most controversial remedies for overhauling Medicare and Social Security, and offers up a populist-sounding “Buffett Rule,” which would prohibit millionaires from paying a lower tax rate than middle-class Americans.

Will the markets be mollified by Obama’s partisan scheme? Will independent voters be swayed? I doubt it.

As for his speech from the Rose Garden, Obama (late as usual) unleased the customary Bush-blaming (he got the IOU’s from his predecessor he argued, but didn’t explain the mammoth increase on his own watch). He bizarrely stated that most of the proposals had been voted on before by Republicans (certainly not the huge tax hikes, correct?). And he denied that he was practicing class warfare (although he delighted in touting hi efforts to get the “wealthy” to pay more). He proclaimed, “It’s not class warfare. It’s math.” But the plan also includes $1 trillion in phony war savings, which is more hocus-pocus than math. His cynical conclusion that “we are all in this together” was in stark contrast to his hyper-partisan scolding of his opponents.

If the speech seemed incoherent, it was. He is trying to both shore up his liberal base and show his bipartisan credentials. Bill Clinton was skilled enough to do that; Obama is not. The economy is worsening. The debt still grows. His vision is utterly at odds with not only Republicans but a great number of red state senators. (Hence, the inability of the Senate to pass a budget.) Does Obama imagine this sort of performance really helps matters?

A measure of the speech’s ineffectiveness was the terse response from Senate Minority Mitch McConnell: “Veto threats, a massive tax hike, phantom savings, and punting on entitlement reform is not a recipe for economic or job growth—or even meaningful deficit reduction. The good news is that the Joint Committee is taking this issue far more seriously than the White House.”

By  |  11:18 AM ET, 09/19/2011

Categories:  2012 campaign, Budget

 
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