President Obama’s “fiscal policy” speech Wednesday was among the most cynical things I’ve seen in 16 years of covering Washington politics.
It was not a fiscal policy speech. There was no fiscal policy in it. There were broad goals without any of the specific, difficult decisions he would have to make in order to get there. The speech was hollow. A mirage. A phantom.
Except that it was a campaign document, conceived, I’m sure, by David Plouffe, the former Obama campaign chairman who is now Obama’s right hand man in the White House.
It comes only two months after Obama proposed a budget that would have cut trillions less from the deficit. What could have caused president to turn on a dime? A suddenly sober, new analysis of the situation? No, politics. That’s all it could be.
And that’s all this was.
Just hours after Obama finished, his campaign manager, Jim Messina, sent out a message to people on the campaign email list using the Obama speech and the GOP budget – written by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin – to build the organization and drum up enthusiasm.
Join our fight for a deficit reduction plan that will actually reduce the deficit — with a goal of shared prosperity through shared responsibility. Add your name to support President Obama’s plan — and then help bring more people into the conversation:
President Obama made a promise in his speech today. He said that we won’t have to sacrifice programs like Medicaid and Social Security — programs that millions of Americans rely on — as long as he’s President. He’s committed to seeking serious solutions to the problems we face while still upholding the larger responsibilities we have to one another. So it’s our job to build the organization that’s going to keep him in the White House.
Most of the speech wasn’t even devoted to his “budget plan” at all. It was devoted to trashing Republicans at a level of vitriol usually reserved for the waning days of a campaign.
To give the impression of bipartisanship and pretend that he wanted to deal in good faith, Obama sat Ryan down in the audience to listen to the remarks. What Ryan heard was that his budget plan was unserious and un-American.
This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America . . . There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That’s not a vision of the America I know. The America I know is generous and compassionate.
He trotted out the two chairman of his fiscal discipline commission, whose specific suggestions on reducing the deficit Obama has failed to embrace. They sat like a couple of beards positioned to make everyone think Obama was enamored of real fiscal discipline. They should have walked out, and they certainly shouldn’t be headed to the White House this morning for a meeting with Obama.
Even within the broad outlines, Obama didn’t embrace Medicare reform, choosing instead to squeeze more savings here and there.
And if those don’t work? Death panels:
We will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services that seniors need.
He repeated old promises to raise taxes on families making $250,000 or more. He vowed to somehow squeeze another $400 billion out of the defense budget, even while we fight four wars, if you include Libya and the war on terror.
He says he wants tax reform, and calls on Congress to figure it out. And he said nothing about making tax reform revenue neutral, which his commission wants – apparently using it instead as a Trojan horse to raise taxes further to reduce the deficit.
He’ll cut discretionary spending, somehow, but “I will not sacrifice the core investments that we need to grow and create jobs.”
He even spent several minutes blaming Bush for everything, just when we all thought maybe he was done with that.
This is indeed unserious. But I wouldn’t call it un-American, because I don’t stoop to that. And anyway, I can’t. Empty rhetoric is firmly with the American political tradition.