I’ll be totally honest with you: I only watched a few minutes of President Obama’s State of the Union address this year. This was the first year in a long time that I’ve missed the State of the Union, but when it gets right down to it, I didn’t miss much.
Here is what I heard President Obama say about sequestration:
It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem. They don’t expect those of us in this chamber to agree on every issue. But they do expect us to put the nation’s interests before party. They do expect us to forge reasonable compromise where we can. For they know that America moves forward only when we do so together, and that the responsibility of improving this union remains the task of us all.Our work must begin by making some basic decisions about our budget — decisions that will have a huge impact on the strength of our recovery.Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce the deficit by more than $2.5 trillion — mostly through spending cuts, but also by raising tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. As a result, we are more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.Now we need to finish the job. And the question is, how?In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, and energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as the sequester, are a really bad idea.
Now, some in Congress have proposed preventing only the defense cuts by making even bigger cuts to things like education and job training, Medicare and Social Security benefits. That idea is even worse.Yes, the biggest driver of our long-term debt is the rising cost of health care for an aging population. And those of us who care deeply about programs like Medicare must embrace the need for modest reforms — otherwise, our retirement programs will crowd out the investments we need for our children, and jeopardize the promise of a secure retirement for future generations.But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and the most powerful. We won’t grow the middle class simply by shifting the cost of health care or college onto families that are already struggling, or by forcing communities to lay off more teachers and more cops and more firefighters. Most Americans — Democrats, Republicans, and independents — understand that we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. They know that broad-based economic growth requires a balanced approach to deficit reduction, with spending cuts and revenue, and with everybody doing their fair share. And that’s the approach I offer tonight.On Medicare, I’m prepared to enact reforms that will achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission.Already, the Affordable Care Act is helping to slow the growth of health care costs. And the reforms I’m proposing go even further. We’ll reduce taxpayer subsidies to prescription drug companies and ask more from the wealthiest seniors. We’ll bring down costs by changing the way our government pays for Medicare, because our medical bills shouldn’t be based on the number of tests ordered or days spent in the hospital; they should be based on the quality of care that our seniors receive. And I am open to additional reforms from both parties, so long as they don’t violate the guarantee of a secure retirement. Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep — but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.To hit the rest of our deficit reduction target, we should do what leaders in both parties have already suggested, and save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off and the well-connected. After all, why would we choose to make deeper cuts to education and Medicare just to protect special interest tax breaks? How is that fair? Why is it that deficit reduction is a big emergency justifying making cuts in Social Security benefits but not closing some loopholes? How does that promote growth?Now is our best chance for bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit. We can get this done. The American people deserve a tax code that helps small businesses spend less time filling out complicated forms, and more time expanding and hiring — a tax code that ensures billionaires with high-powered accountants can’t work the system and pay a lower rate than their hardworking secretaries; a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that are creating jobs right here in the United States of America. That’s what tax reform can deliver. That’s what we can do together.
I realize that tax reform and entitlement reform will not be easy. The politics will be hard for both sides. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But the alternative will cost us jobs, hurt our economy, visit hardship on millions of hardworking Americans. So let’s set party interests aside and work to pass a budget that replaces reckless cuts with smart savings and wise investments in our future. And let’s do it without the brinksmanship that stresses consumers and scares off investors. The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next. We can’t do it.
There are several things wrong with the president’s statements.
For starters, Obama blasts the sequestration cuts because they aren’t narrow, targeted cuts. But we’ve already seen what happens when Congress tries to implement targeted cuts: nothing gets cut! This is how we ended up with sequestration in the first place: a bipartisan Congressional committee was formed with the goal of identifying specific cuts, with an overall total in mind for how much should be cut. But while Democrats and Republicans can sometimes come together and agree on a grand total of what should be cut, getting them to agree on specific cuts nearly impossible – in the case of that Congressional committee, it was because there was no program that Democrats were willing to actually get rid of – and if we can’t even cut wasteful programs, then the cuts will never be made.
President Obama has repeatedly used the scalpel analogy to describe how we should be cutting, but the idea that we should having a committee wielding that scalpel is ludicrous, and it’s ridiculous for the President of the United States to pass the buck like that. He is the chief executive; while Congress may be able to effectively identify how much money should be cut from federal spending, it should be the president’s job to empower his cabinet and department heads to narrow down ways that they can streamline their departments, making the cuts in the smartest ways possible.
It is much more politically advantageous for President Obama to push that function on to Congress, so that when the cuts never happen, he can throw up his hands and say “It isn’t my fault, that’s Congress’s job!”
And if you notice, even in the points he made in the State of the Union, President Obama passed the buck to Congress. He stated, “In 2011, Congress passed a law…” Well, due to the nature of our government, regardless of where that law originated, it would never have become law without the president’s signature…so shifting the blame for sequestration solely to Congress just doesn’t work, because the bill has President Obama’s signature on it.
Then, look at the deficit drivers he identifies: Medicare and Social Security. Republicans have been trying to reform these programs for years, yet even now, right after correctly identifying both programs as the primary drivers of our debt, President Obama pushes back against meaningful reform, choosing instead to demagogue about closing tax loopholes (AKA legal tax deductions). The tax reform policies he is talking about now are the very same policies he rejected two months ago during the Fiscal Cliff negotiations, yet now they are the all-important solution to our problems…so tell me again, Mr. President, how we cannot keep conducting business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next.
President Obama is the king of the manufactured crisis, so to hear him say “The greatest nation on Earth cannot keep conducting its business by drifting from one manufactured crisis to the next” is particularly galling. If he truly believes that, maybe he should start pushing for the Senate to pass a budget…because while President Obama talked a lot about the budget, he never called out the Senate for failing to pass a budget, even after almost four straight years.
And this is the crux of the matter. If President Obama truly wanted to unite America, bringing our nation together and securing our financial future, he would be just as willing to call out members of his own party as he is to condemn Congressional Republicans. But while he spoke about our nation’s continuing lack of a budget in rather vague terms, he refused to address the issue with any specificity…and until he is willing to bring his own party to heel, he should have no expectations that anyone to his political right will believe a single word that he says on fiscal responsibility.
That is the main stumbling block to Obama’s presidency: even if his ideas were good and will help our economy (which they aren’t and won’t), Republicans have no reason to go along with his agenda until he at least makes an effort to get his own party in line. But that isn’t going to happen, so we’re in for another four years of manufactured crises, all because the Democrats won’t do their jobs.