Sunday, March 01, 2009

Playing It Straight

After the record-setting deficits the nation endured during the presidency of George W. Bush, Republicans are furiously trying to sell the American people the notion that it is Barack Obama who is oblivious to the danger of big budgets. Typical were the remarks of the biggest Repub of them all, Rush Limbaugh, at the Conservative Political Action Conference. He claimed

In fact, the money he's spending is not ours. He's spending wealth that has yet to be created. And that is not sustainable. It will not work..... President Obama, your agenda is not new. It's not change, and it's not hope. [Applause] Spending a nation into generational debt is not an act of compassion.

Though Rush was completely on board with the huge tax cuts for the wealthy that played a major role in Republican red-ink of the 1990s, painting President Obama as a reckless spender was not as bizarre as the conspiracy Rush has uncovered in the Executive Branch:

And it's gotten so out of hand now that what worries me is that this administration, the Barack Obama administration is actively seeking to expand the welfare state in this country because he wants to control it.

Limbaugh, characteristically, provided no evidence, facts or details. President Obama has pledged to eliminate budgetary flim-flam, pledging to include the cost of wars and of national emergencies in the budget, rather than hiding them as his predecessor did. Newsday, in an editorial today, noted:

Obama explicitly rejected some of the more egregious budgeting practices of his immediate predecessor. President George W. Bush never included the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in his budgets, for instance, opting instead to treat those military campaigns as emergencies and fund them off the books. He took a similar approach with the entirely predictable $60 billion it cost the Treasury for each year that Congress spared 20 million taxpayers the expensive bite of the alternative minimum tax. Bush also budgeted nothing for federal disaster response, though natural disasters invariably occur. Obama included all three things in his 10-year budget.

Next, he made it clear that laying the groundwork for a strong economy down the road won't be free. Want to kick fossil fuels for a green future? How about reforming how we pay for health care, so we can get more for our dollars and reduce the ranks of the uninsured? Want to keep Medicare solvent? Get a bigger federal contribution for our schools? Repair and maintain roads, bridges, airports and mass transit? Build a modern energy grid?

It will all cost money, a fact Obama didn't sugarcoat. He budgeted funds as a down payment for those priorities. And he proposed taxes and identified savings to help cover the tab.

The message to taxpayers and Capitol Hill? Quit the magical thinking. These things won't pay for themselves. And we can't just continue to borrow and spend and pass the bill to our kids.

You can treat your audience as children, going for the cheap laughs, as in Limbaugh quipping "Besides, as far as John Kerry is concerned, if it wasn't for his varicose veins, he would be totally colorless. [Laughter]" Or try the route of candor and courage, "treat(ing) the public like grown-ups," as Newsday put it of Obama. Unfortunately, Rush's posse, proud to identify itself as "dittoheads" and fresh off supporting George W. Bush, has little interest in hearing it straight from a President.

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