In the opinion of this Washington Post columnist, our representatives in Washington have accomplished the following:
Assuming no hiccups in the House — and that might be a big assumption — we’ve got a deal. The deficit-reduction side includes $1 trillion in cuts now, $1.5 trillion (or more) in deficit reduction later, and a vote on a balanced budget amendment. Meanwhile, it raises the debt ceiling by $900 billion immediately, and either $1.5 trillion (if the second deficit reduction package or a balanced budget amendment passes) or $1.2 trillion (if neither pass) later. Either way, the Treasury should have plenty of borrowing authority to get us to 2013.
This budgetary and spending process will continue to play out through the end of the year. Additional sound bite posturing and evasion on cable is certain. Barack Obama is damaged politically and any Democrat with guts can challenge him in the primaries next year with the expectation that in the very least he/she will make the incumbent sweat.
President Obama’s principles have been compromised. Dramatic yet necessary cuts in entitlement programs will ensue in future months: change you can believe in. Wealthy Americans will not be asked to sacrifice a portion of their wealth to assist the less fortunate but more importantly, close the gap between spending and revenue in order to balance the budget. That is the crucial issue for this cycle of drama for it will never be broken until the gap between revenue and spending is closed. Significant savings in spending will never happen until non-discretionary spending, entitlements are chopped without zeal but firmness.
This situation like the dependence on foreign oil, a weakness in our economy that could have been disposed of years ago through higher mileage standards: there was no political will. Politicians look forward to the next election and not to the future, the common good, of our country. Bureaucrats and politicians are disposed to control their own turf. Corporations tend to look no farther than quarterly profits. There is little common sense for the common good.
A bi-partisan committee in Congress will determine the next round of budget cuts. There will be an option to raise revenue rates but with the ascendancy of the Publicans, this is unlikely. Without more revenue, there will be $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending reductions that would begin to go into effect by early 2013.
The president’s lack of leadership skill, evident before he was elected and readily discernible when he failed to take charge during last year’s Gulf disaster, has failed the majority of Americans. Barack Obama lacks political courage because polls have shown that the American people would have blamed Republicans for failure to raise the debt ceiling. Perhaps this would have been a bridge too far, but the president missed the opportunity to demonstrate leadership. By sticking to his guns and standing up to the Tea Party, the president had a chance to increase revenue to bring a balanced budget closer.
He miscalculated. Hoping to achieve the Grand Bargain despite strong evidence that he faced fierce opposition from the Tea Party, the White House stumbled and crumbled.
same pile of crap
Here’s why. The Congressional Budget Office says Uncle Sam will spend around $46 trillion over the next 10 years. Assume the committee proposes and Congress enacts a further $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction atop the deal’s $900 billion in initial cuts, and that all this is done on the spending side (though “tax reform” is supposed to be included). That means we’ll have trimmed less than 6 percent from federal spending that is already slated to increase from $3.6 trillion to $5.7 trillion by 2021.
In other words, the numbers sound big and can be sold as “historic,” but they’re not even close to what’s needed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham had it right Sunday. “It’s a $3 trillion package that will allow $7 trillion to be added to the deficit over the next decade,” he said, instead of $10 trillion. “We’re no longer running toward oblivion, we’re walking toward it.”
Numerous polls have demonstrated that citizens preferred the president’s approach to this crisis by raising revenue and making mild cuts to favorite programs. Moreover, last December when Democrats still controlled both chambers of Congress, the president did not press his loyalists for action.
Start with the first round of deficit debates this winter. After the Republican sweep, the White House seemed to have two options: double down on Keynesian stimulus or pivot to the center and champion deficit reduction. Instead, Obama chose to hover above the fray, passing on his own fiscal commission’s recommendations and letting the Republicans make the first move.
The strategy worked, in a sense. Goaded by the president’s evasiveness, Paul Ryan and the House Republicans put forward a detailed long-term budget proposal of their own, whose Medicare cuts proved predictably unpopular. But while the subsequent policy debate favored Obama, the optics of the confrontation diminished him. The chairman of the House Budget Committee looked more like a leader than the president of the United States.
Then came the spring’s great foreign policy dilemma, the civil war in Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libya. The president (wisely) didn’t want to put America’s blood and treasure on the line for the rebels, but he also didn’t want to take responsibility for letting Qaddafi crush the revolt. So the White House opted for a kind of quasi war, throwing just enough military power at the problem to ensure a stalemate and then punting responsibility to our NATO allies. An Obama adviser told The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza that the president was pioneering a new American way of statecraft: “ Leading from behind.”
Again, the strategy worked, sort of. An immediate humanitarian crisis was averted, and Libya quickly fell out of the headlines. But it left Americans to contemplate a peculiar and unpresidential spectacle: The leader of the free world taking the country to war while pretending that he wasn’t, and then effectively washing his hands of the ultimate outcome — which, 135 days and counting later, is still very much in doubt.
The same pattern has played out in the debt ceiling debate. Instead of drawing clear lines and putting forward detailed proposals, the president has played Mr. Compromise — ceding ground to Republicans here, sermonizing about Tea Party intransigence and Washington gridlock there, and fleshing out his preferred approach reluctantly, if at all.
The White House no doubt figured that this negotiating strategy would either lead to a bipartisan grand bargain or else expose Republican extremism — or better still, do both. And again, the strategy is arguably working. Americans were given a glimpse of right-wing populism’s reckless side last week, and the final deal will probably let the president burnish his centrist credentials just in time for 2012.
But winning a debate on points isn’t a substitute for looking like a leader. It’s one thing to bemoan politics-as-usual when you’re running for the White House. It’s quite another to publicly throw up your hands over our “dysfunctional government” when you’re the man the voters put in charge of it.
In fairness, the president’s passive-aggressive approach is a bipartisan affliction. The ostensible front-runner for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, took a deliberately hazy position on last week’s crucial House debate, preferring to flunk a test of leadership rather than risk alienating either side. (The Washington Examiner’s Tim Carney quipped that “if you took Obama’s plan and Romney’s plan, and just met in the middle, you’d be in the middle of nowhere.”)
This leaves Americans to contemplate two possibilities more alarming than debt-ceiling brinkmanship. First, that we’re living through yet another failed presidency. And second, that there’s nobody waiting in the wings who’s up to the task either. Emphasis added
If George Bush had been president in 1941, we’d be all be speaking Italian now.
Obama forced to swallow Tea Party’s demands as deal is reached
By David Usborne in Washington
President Barack Obama, who once lectured Europe on why spending and investment is the best cure for a recession, was yesterday contemplating the consequences of an emergency debt-ceiling deal that will suck more than $2 trillion (£1.2trn) out of a still shaky US economy over the next 10 years.
Enormous concessions from the White House to satisfy demands largely driven by the radical Tea Party flank of the Republicans provided the key to unlock the door to a deal, approved in the House of Representatives last night. It would enact deep spending cuts in return for a new authorisation to raise the US debt ceiling and draw America back from the brink of defaulting on its debt.
To the disgust of many in his own party, Mr Obama caved on his demands that the deal have “balance” between spending cuts and increases in tax revenues. Of the latter, there are so far none.
Entitlement programs, tax-code reform and other big decisions will go to yet another quasi-independent panel, this one a “super-committee” of lawmakers. In the likely event they can’t agree, government spending would be dictated by automatic “triggers” and across-the-board cuts, known as “sequestration mechanisms,” that take decisions out of lawmakers’ hands. The balanced-budget amendment contemplated in the compromise could mean that lawmakers would permanently surrender power to formulas. The compromise, in other words, only confirms that the government is ungovernable.