Many of President Obama’s critics argue that he and Democratic congressional leaders are out of touch with America. That judgment is both too harsh and too kind.
It’s too harsh because President Obama and congressional Democrats are already reacting to the Tea Partyers’ rebellion against his massive increases in government spending. It’s too kind because the president, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are undeterred. They will do whatever is necessary to convince voters that their relentless pursuit of their hyperliberal agenda will reduce the deficit in the hope that voters won’t stop them until it is too late.
Back in May, Obama’s administration was projecting a deficit of $7.1 trillion for the years 2010-2019 on top of the $1.8 trillion deficit in 2009. Those projections would result in a 2019 deficit that amounted to 82% of the GDP. At that level, America would be a bad credit risk, and the deficit would either result in huge tax increases or an America that would, simply, be bankrupt.
Even during the 2008 campaign, Mr. Obama promised to reduce the federal deficit. In his first 100 days, he increased spending and grew government faster than at any time since World War 2.But his tsunami of deficit spending – in the failed “stimulus”, nationalization of GM and Chrysler, his $3.6 trillion budget for FY 2010 and more – has created an enormous voter backlash.
The voice of the backlash, the Tea Party movement, has become such a threat to the president and the Democratic members of congress that last week he was back to his campaign trope of cutting the deficit. Obama is nothing if not an adept politician: he reads the Tea Party rebellion correctly. His enormous increase in the size of government and the generational theft resulting from his deficit spending has awakened the sleeping giant of voters’ most basic instinct: to keep what they earn. Just as the Perotistas did in 1992, the Tea Partyers threatens to remove from office those politicians who choose to continue spending more than voters are willing to have the government take from them, their children and their grandchildren.
Congressional Democrats are listening to the voters as well as the president. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) has cobbled together a healthcare “reform” bill that allegedly cuts the deficit. But, like the president’s fiscal legerdemain, Reid’s bill actually spends more and taxes more to achieve his patently false claim that the healthcare measure will reduce the deficit.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) blew away Reid’s smokescreen in a CNN interview yesterday, talking about the Reid healthcare bill that the Senate just voted to debate.
McConnell said, “The American people are opposed to this particular health care bill. They thought this was all going to be about controlling costs, but, in fact, we’ve ended up with a $2.5 trillion budget-busting proposal that CBO, the scorekeeper in Congress, tells us, after it’s all over, will not control costs.”
McConnell is right, but the Democrats — even Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mi) — are making a pretense of fiscal responsibility. If the president ever decides on a troop surge for Afghanistan (which Levin opposes), there will be a cost that Levin believes shouldn’t be added to the deficit. One estimate says that if 40,000 more troops are sent, the cost could be $40 billion. Levin’s solution? Another soak-the-rich tax for Americans making more than $200,000.
What’s going on?
Two things. First, because the president’s spending spree has failed to stimulate the economy — as evidenced by the national unemployment figure topping 10% last month — Americans have crafted a perfect campaign slogan for Republicans in 2010 and 2012. All they need to do is focus on three words: Roll Obama back.
Conservatives – and even most Republicans – are by nature incrementalists. They take things in small bites and chew on them for a long time to make them digestible. But voters’ anger and frustration at the Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda doesn’t allow for that. If the Republicans want to make the huge gains they think are coming their way next year, they have to promise massive steps.
If the Republican agenda promises only small cut backs on Obama’s programs — the unspent stimulus, the costs of the healthcare bill, the billions lost in taking over the automakers — they will gain fewer seats next year than are needed to regain the majority.
But if Republicans choose to be bold — if they promise to repeal and not just whittle at the Obama spending spree — they can capture the political energy of the Tea Partyers and the Republican base. McConnell gets it: he proposed repeals of the unspent stimulus. But there needs to be a comprehensive itemization of the repeals as a foundation of the Republican campaigns. They can recapture the House and reduce the Democratic Senate majority to an unworkable margin only with a bold plan. As Cong. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) likes to say, a Congressional minority plus the American people equals a majority.
And they will have to be aggressive and uncompromising to do so because the other thing that’s going on is that the Democrats are already campaigning on cutting the deficit they created. They are as brazen as Demi Moore if she were campaigning for modesty.
For President Obama and congressional Democrats to campaign successfully on deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility, they would have to believe that Americans are either ignorant of or uncaring about what they have done since January and what they intend to do next year.
But as the Tea Partyers and all the other voices of August proved, Americans are as politically engaged as they have ever been. If Republicans choose to be bold — to promise they’ll roll back the nationalization of healthcare, the financial industry and the automakers — they can win in 2010 and beyond. If they propose small cuts and tinkering with what Obama has done, and if they don’t reach out to the angry independents the Democrats may yet get away with it.
Roll Obama Back. It’s more than a bumper sticker-ready slogan: it’s a concise statement of the promise to put America back on the right track.