Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Obama's Budget War with Republicans & the Electoral Highway to 2012
President Obama finally threw down the gauntlet with yesterday’s unveiling of his much anticipated budget plan for the next federal fiscal year that, beyond providing the most coherent, clearly enunciated body of ideas from Democrats till date, also served up a stinging indictment of the Republican equivalent as outlined a few weeks prior by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee Chairman.
Coming on the heels of the near shut-down of the federal government principally on account of was perceived as the general intransigence of the opposition, it was clear from the President’s overall countenance and tenor that he had about had enough of the ideological posturing and political gamesmanship of the Boehner-led GOP/Tea Party alliance.
After forcefully rejecting Republican plans to reduce spending by more than $5 trillion over a 10-year time frame reliant almost exclusively on historic structural changes to federal social safety net programs, Medicare and Medicaid, while still permanentizing controversial Bush-era tax cuts, Obama proposed a counter plan that would lower the nation’s deficits by $4 trillion in 12 years with a comprehensive cocktail of reductions in domestic spending (including programs under the new health-care law and defense spending) and an increase on the tax burden of high-earning Americans.
Touting his as representing an approach that is more reasoned and fair, especially being that it “puts every kind of spending on the table" and is "one that protects the middle-class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future," Obama chastised the Republican Leadership in the US House of Representatives for shepherding a plan that provides “millionaires an average tax break of $75,000 while doing nothing for the typical middle-class family.”
As was to be expected, GOP Leaders, some of whom were actually in the audience at the venue of the President’s speech , George Washington University, wasted no time, in classic Washingtonian style, dismissing the plan as a misguided, but frantic campaign gimmick. They labeled the entire exercise as a cheap political event than a serious attempt to engage a country caught in the worst economic crisis of its history in the kind of national discourse that is so desperately needed.
But I do believe that this is interestingly the classic case of the kettle calling the pot black. Everything about the raging discussion around this country’s fiscal health and the competing ideas as to what would be the finest way forward is political and will ever be. Even before John Boehner assumed control of the House gavel, Mitch McConnell legendarily publicly declared making Obama a one-term president the GOP’s sole, overarching purpose.
Additionally, both immediately before and after the seating of the 112th Congress, every legislative battle that’s been fought---from extending unemployment to Americans that are out of work, to re-instating the Bush tax cuts, the attempted repeal of the healthcare reform act, the 2011 budget resolution to avert a government shutdown, the current 2012 budget debate, to the looming dispute on raising the debt ceiling to allow the government to continue to borrow money----has been shaped by a GOP that is grappling with finding a way to balance traditional, mainstream interests with the wishes of a small but vociferous and impatient Tea Party wing.
While it is a bit disconcerting and even disingenuous for Obama to turnaround and disparage the same tax cuts that he defended barely three months ago when he brokered a deal with Republicans, it is important to note that there are many parallels between his proposed plan and the ideas marshaled out last December by the bipartisan fiscal commission that he himself constituted. It certainly would have, at a minimum, been embarrassingly indefensible if he had totally ignored or side-stepped the commission’s recommendations.
Each side is obviously anxious to render the other’s ideas as extreme, draconian and ineffectual; and trumpet theirs as bold, sincere and obligatory. But it’s all in the nature of the game and with the 2012 general elections clearly in sight, we should expect things to get even more strident as they play to their respective bases.
Much as there will be some carnage and blood letting along the way, without doubt, the compromise budget bill that will ultimately be passed by Congress and , in the end, presented for the president’s signature will try to marry or weld both plans; exactly to what degree or in what combination, can only be conjectured.
However, I do solemnly hope and pray that President Obama would have the fortitude not to bargain away cherished Democratic ideals when the deal gets hammered out behind closed doors.
I personally believe that it is morally bankrupt and fundamentally unconscionable to advance or support any plan that tightens the vice-grips and, literally, further threatens to choke the life out of the same middle class and underclass that, for the most part, have stoically borne the brunt of the economic crises of the last several years.
The top one percent which, by the way, owns or controls 40-50% of the nation’s wealth, have actually roundly profited from the downturn. It is common knowledge that corporations raked in record profits and millionaires saw their earnings multiply tenfold.
Slashing funding for education and a myriad of other badly needed social programs and turning Medicare and/or Medicaid into a voucher system (and by so doing, exposing seniors on fixed incomes and the poor to the vagaries of merciless market forces as they attempt to fulfill life-dependent existential needs) so as to maintain a superfluous defense spending habit and fund tax cuts to support the conspicuous lifestyles of the super-rich is simply not a recipe for sustainable growth and prosperity.
Regarding the 2012 elections, as is typically the case with high stakes poker, timing and nerve-control are of the essence here and in the end, to the player who manages to remain true to its plan and restrains the natural impulse to pointlessly over play its hands awaits the coveted trophy: the White House!