The President’s wishful-thinking approach

Once again, the President tries to move in two different directions at once. He’s trying to adopt two wildly contradictory approaches with his strategy on the debt “crisis.” What really amazes me is to hear statements like this:

You know, if you care about making investments in our kids and making investments in our infrastructure and making investments in basic research then you should want our fiscal house in order so that every time we propose a new initiative, somebody doesn’t just throw up their hands and say more big spending, more government.

But Republicans and to some extent, Blue Dog Democrats, oppose the New Deal and Great Society programs, period! They oppose these programs root and branch! Cutting these programs down to size is not going to satisfy them. Giving them a half a loaf is just going to whet their appetite for grabbing the whole loaf. Republicans want these programs destroyed, completely, absolutely and without anything left standing. They’re not the slightest bit interested in “splitting the difference” or in reaching some sort of reasonable compromise.

My recommendation is that we make the needed investments, period! Heck, even the right-wing NY Times columnist David Brooks recognizes that “The fiscal crisis is driven largely by health care costs.” The US spends about twice as much on health care per person than what every other advanced society does, yet the results are mediocre, in the middle and unspectacular. Yes, it would be marvelous to produce an even better health care system than what Obama managed to pass in 2010, but it’s actually even easier than that. There are ways in which American health care can be globalized and made to compete with other countries in ways that would lower America’s per-person costs. What does it mean that health care costs are the primary driver of deficits? It means that cutting grandma’s Social Security check and reducing grandpa’s Medicare reimbursement will do absolutely nothing to put our “fiscal house in order.”

Progressives managed to come up with a comprehensive plan that, unlike both the Representative Paul Ryan plan and the “Cat Food Commission” (Actually, the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Commission) plan, actually “gets the budget into primary balance by 2015.” Do Republicans/Blue Dogs like the plan? Of course not. They absolutely hate the plan because it preserves the New Deal and Great Society programs. Our President appears to want to please everybody, but maybe that simply isn’t possible.

As the FireDogLake piece says:

This “get it off the table” strategy was behind the 2002 Iraq war resolution, actually. Getting Iraq off the table would lead to a focus on the economy and a victory for Democrats in the midterms. It didn’t work out that way. It never does.

Blue Dog Democrats, and I’m including Obama in that group, appear to be extremely bad at judging what their opponents will do.  Obama wasted week after week talking with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) about the ACA, trying to find areas on which they could agree. Sure, it would have been preferable to have gotten the votes of more than just the Senate’s 59 (Later 60 when Al Franken was approved as the Senator from Minnesota, but that went back down to 59 when Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) died) Democrats and the two Independents who were in the Democratic Caucus. But ultimately, Snowe decided not to vote for the ACA, thereby wasting many valuable weeks during which other things could have gotten done.

Would anyone have known or cared that the ACA was passed using the filibuster-proof reconciliation process? Considering how many times G.W. Bush used it (To pass, among other things, the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003) Republicans would likely have made a stink about it, but that’s an “inside baseball” kind of thing where very few people are up to speed enough on the details to really care one way or another.

The essential political problem here is a rhetorical one, one of the political language that’s being used to describe the situation, not one of real facts. Keynesianism is not dead or disproven or discredited, it’s just that the President has not mounted a full-throated defense of it. He’s permitted Republicans to define political reality and to set the parameters of what is and isn’t politically possible. This was a completely incoherent and thoroughly confused statement when it was made back in February, but it’s pretty obvious that the thinking of the Obama Administration hasn’t improved at all:

“Well, Sam, I would point you to our logic, to the president’s logic, which is that we need to live within our means. We need to reduce spending. We need to demonstrate our seriousness about that, but we also need to invest where it’s essential. And we feel that we need to be careful about cuts so that we don’t threaten the recovery, that we don’t threaten growth, that we don’t threaten our national security. But we obviously agree with others that spending cuts are necessary.”

The obvious problem here is that ANY cuts to government spending are bad and counter-productive! If there were any harmless and necessary cuts, no one had identified them back in February and no one has identified them today.

Update: The President also engages in a false equivalence:

“Let’s be honest. Neither party in this town is blameless,” he said in his weekly address. “Both have talked this problem to death without doing enough about it. That’s what drives people nuts about Washington.”

Daily Kos responds:

Wrong. There is one party that is to blame for the debt and the deficit: The Republican Party. From 1981-2011, this deficit problem emerged. Twenty of those years were under Republican rule, and the 10 years of Democratic rule produced a net surplus. Democrats balanced the budget. Republicans ruined it. No, Mr. President. There is not blame on both sides. There is blame on one side.

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