- Politics and Social Issues
The Third and Fourth Terms of President Bush
In deciding whether President Obama’s economic policy is good or bad, there is only one thing to consider: whether or not President Obama is among the worst negotiators in the history of humanity, or whether he is simply a conservative at heart.
This issue is, ultimately, unprovable. However, take the 2011 budget negotiations. In February, the Republicans asked for $32 billion in budget cuts (Herszenhorn). Now, assuming for a moment that President Obama is the progressive that he ran as, the actual compromise would be less than $32 billion. Yet, the final number in budget cuts turn out to be $38.5 billion (Hulse). I take the position that Obama is a conservative, because I literally cannot believe that any human being could be that bad of a negotiator. His press conference afterwards also leads me to believe this, as President Obama said the budget “invests in our future while making the largest annual spending cut in our history.” He was bragging. He went on to say:
“Beginning to live within our means is the only way to protect those investments that will help America compete for new jobs. A few months ago, I was able to sign a tax cut for American families because both parties worked through their differences and found common ground. Now the same cooperation will make possible the biggest annual spending cut in history; and it’s my sincere hope that we can continue to come together as we face the many difficult challenges that lie ahead.”
Again, notice how President Obama brags about spending cuts. The only way this would make sense is if President Obama also got tax increases greater than or equal to that $38.5 billion. Instead, he cut taxes by around $711 billion. According to the Government Accountability Office, in the 2011 deal, he got a $147 billion tax increase, but this was only after he extended the Bush tax cuts in 2010, cutting taxes by $858 billion (Dixon, Cowan). Democrats got absolutely nothing back for what they gave up, although they bragged that they manage to not have cuts to environmental projection or Planned Parenthood (Hulse). So President Obama gave everything and more away, bragged about it, then further bragged saying, in essence, that it could have been worse.
There are people who fall into the camp that someone could be that bad of a negotiator, but I do not. I believe Obama is a conservative, and this is a central argument for the rest of the paper. The reason this concept is so important, is because there exists a camp of people who say that Obama would be an FDR-like progressive lion if only the Congressional Republicans would get out of his way. Firstly, Democrats currently control the White House and the Senate, so they should be able to overcome the House of Representatives—after all, it would be simple enough to eliminate the filibuster, as it is not protected in the constitution. Controlling the White House and the Senate and still not being able to get your legislation through implies that perhaps there’s an ulterior motive—in this case, that President Obama is a conservative. This is not even accounting for the two years when Democrats controlled the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives. Aside from that, it does not matter if all 535 members of congress were Republicans; President Obama still has no excuse for being pushed from $32 billion in cuts to $38.5 billion in cuts. Then he brags about. So it is not, in my opinion, the Congressional Republicans who are making Obama appear conservative. It is Obama who is making Obama appear conservative, and it is because he is conservative.
A few other things to consider are as follows. Even if Obama was the worst negotiator in history, it would still count against him, as a good president should have passable negotiating skills. Also, President Obama should be judged not on what he says, but instead on what he does. For example, Obama may have said he was against the bank bailout, but his actual policy was to continue and expand it (Solomon, Enrich, Hilsenrath).
Society of the Machine
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America has some of the worst roads in the modernized world. In 2013, The American Society of Civil Engineers gave America’s infrastructure a “D+.” They suggest $3.6 trillion dollars of spending by 2020. The thing about improving infrastructure is that it creates jobs. To President Obama’s credit, he has proposed improving infrastructure, however, “The White House has routinely given up such demands in negotiations with congressional Republicans” (Jamieson, Delaney). On its own, this seems innocent enough, but let us go back to the 2011 negotiations from the introduction. If that is the way President Obama negotiates, then it is more than fair to say that he most likely readily gave up this idea, or at the very least, he did not spend more than a few breaths fighting for it. To think of it another way, it would be incredibly easy to make the argument to the American people that our infrastructure is one of the worst infrastructures in the world, and that improving it will not only benefit people on a daily basis, but will also create jobs to sustain the economy long term. Yet, President Obama, although he has said this, lets it drop every time. He did not even carry the message through to mid-term elections, in order to make it a decisive issue.
Continuing on the issue of jobs, it is important to note that all the problems with jobs are not directly attributable to President Obama. He is simply continuing a trend that started at about the time of Ronald Raegan’s presidency. The issue is quite complex, probably too complex for a paper of this length, so suffice it to say that the issue stems from income inequality. According to the Economic Policy Institute, since 1979, the top one percent of richest Americans got more than 38% of income growth, while the bottom ninety percent of poorest Americans got just under 37% of the income growth. When all that wealth accumulates at the top, the richest Americans get too much money to spend, and the money that should go to small business to create jobs ends up going to the Cayman Islands and creating no jobs. As stated, Obama did not start this, but he also did not end it. One lens through which to view this is through tax cuts (for the rich). FDR could have continued the policy of giving tax cuts (to the rich), like Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover did, but instead, he decided to use the government to create competition and jobs, and adjusted tax rates to create more economic balance. Similarly, Obama could have broken the trend, set from President Raegan on, of giving tax cuts (to the rich), but he was complicit (Beinhart). So, part of the criticism of President Obama does not come so much from what he did specifically, but what he failed to do. This criticism emerges from him quietly accepting harmful policies, rather than casting them aside. For example, President Obama’s proposed jobs plan in 2011 consisted of $447 billion, but over $250 billion of it was in tax cuts (O'Callaghan). That was not the compromise, it was the proposal. Of course, the actual budget looked different, but that this was the proposal shows President Obama’s willingness to go along with policies which have historically failed.
As for the actual results of President Obama’s policies, I cannot criticize the raw numbers. Looking at job numbers from the Bureau of Labor statistics, it is undeniable that all job losses under President Obama came early in his presidency, and were directly a result of the failed policies of his predecessor, President Bush. Some argue that President Obama should be creating more jobs more quickly, but I am not among them. I will instead criticize President Obama on the type of jobs he has created.
According to the National Employment Law Project, 60% of the jobs lost in the Bush recession were mid-wage jobs—not President Obama’s fault. However, under the Obama recovery, only 22% of the jobs regained were mid-wage jobs. 58% of the jobs created in the Obama recovery were low wage jobs. This would not be so much of a problem is President Obama had raised the minimum wage, but of course, he has not. I am not convinced President Obama could have gotten this through the obstructionist Congress, but the fact is, he never proposed it. President Obama never even attempted to get a minimum wage increase (Jamieson). Again, we must look back to the introduction of this paper. Is Obama the world’s worst negotiator, or did he simply not want to raise the minimum wage? I venture the latter, and it is detrimental to the economy, as it squeezes the middle class and increases income inequality. There are many statistics on income equality, and it could easily be its own paper, but for now, I will just reiterate that since 1979, the top one percent of richest Americans got more than 38% of income growth, while the bottom ninety percent of poorest Americans got just under 37% of the income growth.
 It was after writing this statement that President Obama raised the minimum wage for all new federal contractors. This is a step in the right direction, but the raise was neither high enough, nor did it help enough people.
This is a complex topic. Most of the blame for the bailouts has to fall on former President Bush. However, President Obama did oversee some portion of the bailouts, although it is unclear exactly how much say he had. However, President Obama is entirely at fault for his choice of Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary and for having Larry Summers as top advisor in his economic council. Geithner was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York from 2003 to 2009, meaning that he was one of the top regulators in the country when the economy crashed. It is nearly indisputable that a large part of the crash was a direct result of lack of regulation, meaning that Geithner was not doing his job. As for Larry Summers, he had testified in favor of deregulation well before Obama appointed him, which makes him a poor choice to solve a problem created by deregulation. As a result of these choices, there is significant concern over how the bailout was handled, but again, it is hard to pinpoint where the blame falls in all cases, because former President Bush was responsible for some of the bailouts, such as the TARP bailout.
Here is the problem. Knowing that Geithner already had a chance to regulate the banks and failed, he was in the following position:
“For the first two months of the Obama administration, treasury secretary Timothy Geithner was the only appointed official in the department that had responsibility for accounting for the expenditure of the rescue, recovery, and reinvestment funds, approximately $1.5 trillion; establishing new rules and procedures for the banking and investment communities; and making sure that the government funds were spent properly.” (Edwards, Wayne, 219)
Now, it is possible that Geithner could have handled the bailouts well, but that appears not to be the case, as Edwards and Wayne continue to layout:
“Obama’s treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, told the president that bonuses given out by the giant insurer AIG, a company bailed out by the government in 2008, could not be prevented because it would violate the company’s contracts with its executive employees, a position that he and Obama’s chief economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, explained on the Sunday morning interview shows. Several days later, responding to negative public opinion, however, the president expressed his anger and reputedly told Geithner to do what he could to prevent the bonuses or to recoup the money for the taxpayers.” (220)
Notice the end of the quote. President Obama said the right thing, but what about his actions? He had to have known that Geithner and Summers, at best, would be lenient on the banks, so how could he act surprised when they went soft on them? This is a trademark of Obama’s presidency. Saying the right thing, but doing the opposite, and this is no exception.
Credit where credit is due, however. President Obama’s bailout of the automotive industry was successful in saving those industries.
How Do You Think The Country Should Address the Deficit?
Obama’s mistake on the deficit was not that he reduced it, but rather, that he reduced it on the backs of those who could least bear it. Coming into office, President Obama inherited a $1.2 trillion deficit. Currently, the deficit sits at $680 billion, and is set to fall to $514 billion this year (Taylor). Now, to be fair, it was not terribly hard to reduce the deficit from where President Bush left it. President Bush spent wildly while simultaneously cutting revenue; however, President Obama did not reduce the deficit by increasing revenue—he kept in place the Bush tax cuts for 99 percent of the country (Montgomery, Shailagh, Branigin). Rather, President Obama reduced the deficit by cutting spending. As already stated, America’s infrastructure has a D+ rating, and there are many other problems ranging from healthcare to under regulation, so it would seem to make sense that spending would increase, but it did not. The spending not only did not increase, which would have provided a much need stimulus, but the spending did not even remain stagnant, which would have been better than what actually happened, which is that spending was cut. The areas where these cuts occurred are devastating. Of course a president as conservative as Obama could not cut corporate subsidies, so, instead, President Obama’s administration oversaw cuts in other areas.
Take the 2013 sequestration. Before discussing this, we must first consider not only what the sequestration meant, but what the alternative to it would have been. When the sequestration occurred, many people decried the failing of Washington to allow such a thing to happen. However, these people did not consider what the alternative was. The United States defense budget is bloated beyond belief. Here are some statistics from 2011: 20% of the United States Federal Budget went to defense, a total of $718 billion was spent on defense, the U.S. Defense budget could end world hunger 20 times over, and the U.S. Defense budget is not only the largest in the world, but also larger than the next largest thirteen countries combined (Plumer). So, needless to say, it was good when the sequestration cut $42.7 billion from defense. As always, credit where credit is due. However, the cuts also took (in millions) $1600 from the National Institutes of Health, $303 from the CDC, $400 from Head Start, $928 from FEMA, $1740 from Public Housing Support, $209 million from the FDA, $896 from NASA, $827 from Special Education, $903 from the Energy Department, $361 from the National Science Foundation, $411 from global health programs, $53 from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, $74 from the SEC, and cuts in several other places. When you add in the egregious $11.1 billion in Medicare cuts, it comes to a total of $42.6 billion in non-defense cuts (Matthews). Again, there are those defenders of President Obama who will say that there was nothing he could do in the face of the extremist Republicans in Congress. However, it should be noted that the whole idea of sequestration and all its cuts were originally proposed by the Obama Administration. So, in the end, it is a mixed bag. President Obama deserves credit for cutting from the bloated defense department, but if he deserves that credit, then he also deserves some blame for cutting from vital public services like Medicare.
Clearly, President Obama has significantly reduced the deficit. Unfortunately, that burden has fallen not on those who can afford to pay it, but on those who cannot. With growing income inequality and a lingering recession from the last administration, President Obama should have taken a Keynesian approach, but instead, he choose to reduce the deficit, much to the disadvantage of the country’s poorest.
How Would You Rate President Obama's Performance?
As of now, President Obama has not cut Social Security. However, he should not get credit for this, because he has wanted to cut it ever since he was a freshman senator. He proposes cutting it at every negotiation, and his idea of a grand bargain is a cut to social security. Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus and is 100 percent solvent until at least the year 2033 (Desilver). Yet Obama has made it his mission to cut it. Some argue that the U.S. must cut Social Security to save it. None argue that the US must cut the Defense budget to save it. This is because cutting something to save it is an invalid argument. When something is cut, it is not saved, it is merely cut. Social Security is not an entitlement. It is not government money. Social Security is money that people invest and then get back upon retirement—by law, Social Security cannot add to the deficit. To cut Social Security would be to rob from people. In a rational democratic system, the tax cap on social security would just be done away with, since the rich also receive Social Security, and then Social Security would be permanently solvent and no one would be robbed. However, in the American system, that $2.5 trillion surplus is too tempting not to steal and redistribute upwards.
President Obama has often proposed Chained CPI. Chained CPI is an intentionally over complicated term, but economist Robert Reich offers arguably the best explanation of it. Currently, Social Security is linked to inflation. Chained CPI would make it so that it no longer kept up with inflation. Couple this with Health Care costs inflating more quickly than general inflation, and Chained CPI quickly becomes exposed as a disastrous idea. As a side note, Robert Reich agrees with the previously stated sentiment that the only thing Social Security needs to become permanently solvent is the lifting of the tax cap.
 UPDATE: President Obama, as of February 20th, 2014, removed his pre-concession of social security chained CPI. However, the white house made sure to clarify that chained CPI is still on the table.
Corporate Profits Skyrocket
President Obama has been entirely irresponsible with giving welfare. After all, the richest corporations do not need to be getting federal money. At the same time, President Obama has not awarded enough welfare for those who need it most. I could explain how companies like General Electric, Boeing and Verizon pay absolutely nothing in income taxes (Again, not a policy started by President Obama, but one that he did nothing to curtail). Or I could talk about the over one-hundred other Fortune 500 companies that pay almost nothing in taxes (Drawbaugh, Temple-West). However, I think one figure will best summarize this, and for that, we go back to the 2013 Fiscal Cliff deal.
From the Washington Examiner, the fiscal cliff deal included $62 billion in tax hikes on those making above $450,000. This sounds good at a time when effective tax rate for corporations is among the lowest rates in the world (O’Toole). However, the important number here is this: $68 billion in business and energy tax breaks. So, the conclusion is that the Fiscal Cliff deal, touted to have lowered the deficit, actually raised the deficit, and did so by giving entitlements to big business (Sahadi). This is the central problem of the President’s handling of the economy. President Obama is cutting the overall deficit, but not on the backs of corporations. He gives them more while taking away from the middle class and poor. I will not go into detail about social welfare for the poor, but suffice it to say that they are not getting enough, considering how much the corporations are getting.
President Obama has largely continued the failed policies of his predecessor. He has reduced the deficit on the backs of those who can least afford it while giving aid to those who least need it. He has not been a strong advocate for workers in this country. President Obama famously said he would put on his walking boots if workers’ rights were ever challenged, but was nowhere to be found in the Scott Walker recall election. Obama has made poor choices in advisors and secretaries, and worst of all, he has threatened social security.
President Obama may have the rhetoric of a progressive, but his policies have proved to be nothing of the sort. His actions are so un-progressive, it is not even quite fair to call them conservative. More accurately, President Obama can best be described as a corporatist in an age where corporate power and greed are unchecked.
Recently, President Obama has begun looking a bit more progressive, but it seems likely that this hopeful resurgence is only a political move, and one that will not last past the 2014 midterm.
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