“It seems like they’re just trying to sweep our fiscal problems under the rug and call it a day,” said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who was the Republican vice presidential candidate last year. “We’ve spent years debating — inside groups, outside groups — talking about a debt crisis. And now they’re trying to suggest that the problem is nearly solved, and don’t worry about it.”
As he begins his second term, Obama is convinced that he has gained the upper hand on fiscal issues, in part because the latest projections show the deficit is coming down from its record levels.
Obama also argued in his speech Tuesday night that continuing to focus so intensely on reducing red ink could hamper the country’s ability to create “a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs — that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.”
Those words were a signal that Obama does not intend to fight his battles on Republican terms, including the common GOP assertion that most other goals should be secondary to taming the deficit and reducing the debt.
Though few of the proposals he mentioned in the speech were new, the president believes that his reelection has given him new momentum to pursue them, aides said.
“The politics have shifted. It was intentional,” said White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer. “The president put these issues at the forefront of the campaign for the purpose of shifting the politics.”
How much the dynamic has shifted will be tested in a series of battles over fiscal priorities in the weeks and months to come.
On March 1, a set of deep automatic spending cuts known as a sequester will begin to hit the Pentagon and other federal agencies. Obama is urging Congress to replace these cuts, at least temporarily, with a new debt-reduction package that includes more revenue from taxes.
Later next month, a stopgap funding measure that is keeping the government operating will also expire, setting off what promises to be another fight. And there will be yet another clash later this year on raising the government’s borrowing limit.
Many Republicans are arguing in favor of letting the sequester hit — despite the likely short-term damage to the economy — and adopting an austere budget plan that would wipe deficits out entirely by 2023.
But Democrats say the economic impact of a sequester is a good argument for pulling back on the deficit-reduction throttle.
“We’re saying we should deal with the deficit as part of our economic strategy, not political strategy,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee who is close to the White House. “We’re not done with this, but we should be addressing this issue in the context of jobs.”