Posted at 11:10 PM ET, 07/25/2011
Obama talks to the middle, Boehner rallies the right
By E.J. Dionne Jr.
President Obama made clear tonight that the debate over the debt ceiling is not left vs. right. It’s center vs. right. There was nothing remotely “left” in this speech, unless you count higher taxes for corporate jet owners and a few other populist bits.
He summarized his approach this way: “[L]et’s live within our means by making serious, historic cuts in government spending. Let’s cut domestic spending to the lowest level it’s been since Dwight Eisenhower was president. Let’s cut defense spending at the Pentagon by hundreds of billions of dollars. Let’s cut out the waste and fraud in health care programs like Medicare — and at the same time, let’s make modest adjustments so that Medicare is still there for future generations. Finally, let’s ask the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations to give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”
That’s four sentences on cuts and barely one sentence on taxes, and not even tax increases as such — just a request that the privileged “give up some of their tax breaks and special deductions.”
On the other side are “a significant number of Republicans in Congress [who] are insisting on a cuts-only approach — an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all.” He went on: “And because nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scales, such an approach would close the deficit only with more severe cuts to programs we all care about — cuts that place a greater burden on working families.”
That happens to be true. The most remarkable thing about this whole debate (other than the dangerous foolishness of one side holding the nation’s credit standing hostage to get what it wants) is that Republicans have defined their party as being committed to low taxes for the wealthy above everything else. If anything good can come out of this strange episode, it is that no one will ever be able to doubt that proposition in the future.
There were some nice touches in Obama’s address. Who would ever have imagined that it was Ronald Reagan who said: “Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment? And I think I know your answer.”
It was also good that right out of the box, Obama reminded Americans where the big deficits came from – and where we were when President George W. Bush took office: “In the year 2000, the government had a budget surplus,” Obama said. “But instead of using it to pay off our debt, the money was spent on trillions of dollars in new tax cuts, while two wars and an expensive prescription-drug program were simply added to our nation’s credit card. As a result, the deficit was on track to top $1 trillion the year I took office.” He then explained that the deficit grew further because of the Great Recession, the drop in tax receipts it caused, and the spending he undertook to keep it from being worse. It was a direct hit at Republicans who seemed not to worry about deficits until Obama took office — and now blame him for much of the red ink they themselves spilled.