The President's speech today reminded me of what Gertrude Stein said about Oakland: "There's no there there." It would be wrong to cut anything of significance, we'll have somebody look into defense spending, and if we're still short, we'll have yet another deficit commission. Are you kidding? Atlantic contributor Clive Crook is spot on: "Obama's speech was a waste of breath"
Obama had a difficult assignment in this speech, partly because of the exaggerated hopes for it (see previous post). Even allowing for that, it was weak both politically and substantively. My instant unguarded reaction, in fact, was to find it not just weak but pitiful. I honestly wondered why he bothered.
There was no sign of anything worth calling a plan to curb borrowing faster than in the budget. He offered no more than a list of headings under which $4 trillion of deficit reduction (including the $2 trillion already in his budget) might be found--domestic non-security spending, defense, health costs, and tax reform. Fine, sure. But what he said was devoid of detail. He spent more of his time stressing what he would not agree to than describing clear proposals of his own.There was specificity on one aspect of deficit reduction: getting somebody else to pay.
He is still proposing an increase, not a decrease, in marginal rates on high incomes combined with restricted tax expenditures for those at the top of the income distribution--that is to say, two rounds of increases in high-income tax rates. The rich can pay for it all. That is Obama's tax policy. The whole point and key virtue of the Bowles-Simpson approach to taxes is that it held out the prospect of a deal between Democrats and Republicans: lower marginal rates in return for higher revenues. Obama appears to rule this out on principle.
The speech was more notable for its militant--though ineffectual--hostility to Republican proposals than for any fresh thinking of its own. It was a waste of breath.As readers of this blog might know, I was interested to hear Obama's solution to the Social Security's pending insolvency. What we got was an amorphous platitude that could have been uttered by Obama anytime since 2005:
While Social Security is not the cause of our deficit, it faces real long-term challenges in a country that is growing older. As I said in the State of the Union, both parties should work together now to strengthen Social Security for future generations. But we must do it without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable, or people with disabilities; without slashing benefits for future generations; and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.That's leadership: we should work together, but I won't propose the slimmest of solutions and, by the way, those other guys want to kick Grandma into the street. This was a campaign speech, nothing more, and much less.
Extra - Kaus Files: "Social Security fixes are still in a mystery box."
More - Power Line: "A sorry, cowardly performance."
Even more - The Pentagon says: "What's all this about cuts?"
Plus - Victor Davis Hanson: "Obama vs. Obama."
And this - CBS News reminds us that the national debt is on pace to nearly double to $26.3 trillion by 2021. But Obama's going to cut $4 trillion over 12 years, so we got that goin' for us.