Thursday, September 13, 2012

Coming Our Way

Optimism is such a fine thing.  But it won't be found here, at least not today.

In his interview on August 21 with Time's Michael Scherer, President Obama promised that if re-elected

I will continue to reach out to them and work with them wherever I can. And I think it’s important to note that even in the two years that Republicans have controlled the House, we’ve gotten a lot of stuff done. We have passed a payroll tax cut that affected almost every American. We’ve helped veterans get hired as they come home. We’ve gotten two major trade deals that open up markets and are contributing to us doubling exports.

So even in a pretty sour political circumstance, we’ve been able to get some things accomplished. And I believe that in a second term, where Mitch McConnell’s imperative of making me a one-term President is no longer relevant, they recognize that what the American people are looking for is for us to get things done.

Last August, Congress agreed as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011 (in which the debt ceiling was raised) a deal to create a super committee .   If this committee failed to devise a plan to trim at least $1.5 trillion from the national debt over the following ten years, $109.3 billion in cuts, half from the Defense Department and half from (mostly discretionary) social spending would take effect.

Several Republicans already have complained about the Pentagon's contribution to holding the line on the national debt.  And their presidential nominee, apparently satisfied with cuts to Medicare, education, transportation, and the like, a week ago Sunday on Meet the Press criticized the defense spending portion of the sequester when he argued "I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it.  I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it."     Romney was even more explicit when on September 11 he stated  "The return of our troops cannot and must not be used as an excuse to hollow out our military through devastating defense budget cuts."

That doesn't quite square with the approach last summer of Romney's running mate, who after voting for the bill bragged to Sean Hannity

What conservatives like me have been fighting for, for years, are statutory caps on spending, legal caps in law that says government agencies cannot spend over a set amount of money.  And if they breach that amount across the board, sequester comes in to cut that spending, and you can’t turn that off without a super-majority vote. We got that in law.

But now GOP leadership is appalled. On Tuesday, House Speaker John Boehner called a press conference to blast the President over the latter's alleged failure to suggest an alternative to sequestration.  But as Suzy Khimm explains

Of course, Republicans — Boehner included — had agreed to the deal as well. The defense cuts were part of those consequences. What’s more, House Republicans refused to agree to a debt-ceiling deal that didn’t include some kind of consequence if the supercommittee failed. The White House, conversely, would happily have signed a clean debt-ceiling increase. But the Republicans said there would be no deal if there wasn’t some kind of deficit-reducing backstop in the event the supercommittee failed. That’s where the sequester came from.

And Democrats insist that they chose their particular poison: Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told Politico that they offered the GOP the option of having “a lot of special interest tax loopholes” eliminated instead if the supercommittee failed, but that Republicans chose the defense sequester option instead.    

Majority Leader Cantor even claimed "How is he going to lead to make sure our military is not hollowed out?"

President Obama, though, has offered an option.  His 2013 budget, unanimously rejected by the Senate in a sort of political theater after Republicans brought it up without the policy language or specific proposals attached, calls for eliminating all the automatic cuts for the full ten years.

Congressional Republicans and the party's presidential nominee are not the only ones who want to protect the Pentagon at the expense of the poor and elderly.  Khimm notes "The president instead wants to avoid the cuts by allowing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy to expire and by cutting spending on mandatory programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, among other changes."

"In a second term," Barack Obama tells the New York Times, they (will) recognize that what the American people are looking for is for us to get things done."  

Hopefully, the President is simply naive.   But he hinted in his nomination acceptance speech what those "things" might be.   In Charlotte, he declared

I refuse to ask middle class families to give up their deductions for owning a home or raising their kids just to pay for another millionaire’s tax cut.I refuse to ask students to pay more for college; or kick children out of Head Start programs, or eliminate health insurance for millions of Americans who are poor, elderly, or disabled – all so those with the most can pay less.

He will not support eliminating the deduction for interest paid on home mortgages, or increasing college tuition, or cutting Head Starts or eliminating- eliminating- health insurance for some of the poor, elderly, or disabled... not in order to reduce taxes for the wealthy.  But as part of a Grand Bargain including tax cuts for the rich (or for simply not reducing them), those "things" apparently are on the chopping block.   Quite a Socialist, that Barack Obama.

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