Congratulations to Congressional Republicans for framing the debate in Washington. The economic recovery (which is continuing its positive trend), corporate earnings growth (which is growing to historic levels), the rebound of the auto industry in America, and the upward trend in hiring are all off the front pages. Spending and the deficit are issue Number #1 (unless of course, you poll the American public, which continues to respond in surveys that jobs are Issue #1). Obama is now Reactor-in-Chief, and he is now playing on your turf, and debating on your terms. Well played.
As with many things in life, be careful what you wish for. Obama has responded to the deficit/debt discussion with a full-throated defense of his own approach, and by extension, the progressive approach, to these issues. The haters can stop reading at this point, and log onto a birther conspiracy blog to feed your souls. For the rest of you, here’s the link to the full text of his address Wednesday:
Not everyone will have the patience to read the text of a full speech, and in the Land of Twitter and texting, I guess I’ll have to accept that. For the adult ADHD sufferers, here is a brief outtake for your reading pleasure:
But as far back as the 1980s, America started amassing debt at more alarming levels, and our leaders began to realize that a larger challenge was on the horizon. They knew that eventually, the Baby Boom generation would retire, which meant a much bigger portion of our citizens would be relying on programs like Medicare, Social Security, and possibly Medicaid. Like parents with young children who know they have to start saving for the college years, America had to start borrowing less and saving more to prepare for the retirement of an entire generation.
To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation’s deficit. They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush, then made by President Clinton; by Democratic Congresses and a Republican Congress. All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice, but they largely protected the middle class, our commitments to seniors; they protected key investments in our future.
As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000. We went from deficit to surplus. America was actually on track to becoming completely debt-free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.
But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed. We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program – but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending. Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts – tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.
To give you an idea of how much damage this caused to our national checkbook, consider this: in the last decade, if we had simply found a way to pay for the tax cuts and the prescription drug benefit, our deficit would currently be at low historical levels in the coming years.
Of course, that’s not what happened. And so, by the time I took office, we once again found ourselves deeply in debt and unprepared for a Baby Boom retirement that is now starting to take place. When I took office, our projected deficit, annually, was more than $1 trillion. On top of that, we faced a terrible financial crisis and a recession that, like most recessions, led us to temporarily borrow even more. In this case, we took a series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs, kept credit flowing, and provided working families extra money in their pockets. It was absolutely the right thing to do, but these steps were expensive, and added to our deficits in the short term.
So that’s how our fiscal challenge was created. That’s how we got here. And now that our economic recovery is gaining strength, Democrats and Republicans must come together and restore the fiscal responsibility that served us so well in the 1990s. We have to live within our means, we have reduce our deficit, and we have to get back on a path that will allow us to pay down our debt. And we have to do it in a way that protects the recovery, and protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and helps us win the future.
Is there plenty of empty rhetoric in here? Sure is. How about some hyperbole and oversimplifications? Check and check. The core of the narrative resonates, however. This is what happened, and this is why we are in this predicament in the first place. Call it blame if you like, but it is what happened, in reality, on planet Earth. Join us. The weather’s nice here.
Obama makes a final point that I also believe bears repeating:
This larger debate we’re having, about the size and role of government, has been with us since our founding days. And during moments of great challenge and change, like the one we’re living through now, the debate gets sharper and more vigorous. That’s a good thing. As a country that prizes both our individual freedom and our obligations to one another, this is one of the most important debates we can have (emphasis added).
But no matter what we argue or where we stand, we’ve always held certain beliefs as Americans. We believe that in order to preserve our own freedoms and pursue our own happiness, we can’t just think about ourselves. We have to think about the country that made those liberties possible. We have to think about our fellow citizens with whom we share a community. And we have to think about what’s required to preserve the American Dream for future generations.
This sense of responsibility – to each other and to our country – this isn’t a partisan feeling. It isn’t a Democratic or Republican idea. It’s patriotism.
Paul Ryan gets lauded for his bravery and courage in producing his draconian budget roadmap. I do admire his willingness to begin the conversation, but I am not alone in not endorsing his plan at this point. Most all of the 2012 GOP presidential contenders (except Rick Santorum, who’ll be a distant memory by Jan. 3, 2012) have offered tepid comments about Ryan’s roadmap, going only so far as to praise it as a good “first step”. Not a ringing endorsement of the details, to be sure. Give credit where credit is due – none of these candidates want “end Medicare as we know it” wrapped around their necks next summer, and that’s probably smart politics and smart policy.
I think what gets lost in the debate over taxes and social programs is the business benefit of operating in a country that provide such security, stability and safety nets. We want an educated labor force; we want a healthy workforce; we want a secure and efficient infrastructure. These things are good for business, and I am looking forward to someone hammering that point home.
Break out those flag lapel pins, ladies and gentlemen. Campaign 2012 is underway, and it's been framed.