President Obama Monday night once again made an eloquent argument for compromise on raising the debt limit. A “balanced approach” that would cut $4 trillion in debt over the next 10 years, through lots of cuts in domestic spending, including some to Medicare and Social Security, and some increases in federal revenue. The sort of compromise that takes a chunk out of the debt, that doesn’t pretend as though the entitlement programs can be left alone to eviscerate the federal budget, but that still preserves smart government spending on things such as roads, bridges, research and weather satellites. The sort of compromise that targets inefficiencies and loopholes in the tax code to raise much-needed cash and eliminate distortionary federal intervention into the economy.
The president came late to this line. He hesitated for months to endorse any reform of Medicare and Social Security, time that he could have spent building support for the balanced approach he now favors. And, yet, he is here now. He implored Congress to “seize this moment,” telling Americans that “we can still come together as one nation.” “The entire world is watching,” he said.
Too bad that compromise died over the weekend.
The only two options that appear to be on the table now is one that doesn’t cut all that much, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), and one that aims to take an axe to the budget but raises no new revenue to pay for the things that Americans expect of government, sponsored by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). Making the case for his plan on Monday night, Boehner laced his speech with distortions of the president’s position. He mocked Obama’s position as “we spend more, and you pay more,” accusing the president of asking for “a blank check.” Neither of which actually describe the $4 trillion debt-reduction plan Obama favors.
On the contrary, the president made a great case Monday night — for a plan that has been defunct for days. Maybe he just wanted to underscore that he is trying to be the reasonable centrist in the debate. Maybe he thinks this line of argument will encourage Americans to push Republicans toward Reid’s uninspiring proposal. Either way, it was depressing.