The reviews are in. The Supercommittee was a flop. And the credit goes to a conspicuously absent actor: President Obama.
Don’t take my word for it. Ask Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat. Noting the President’s absence in the four-month process, he remarked, “He’s the leader of this great country. We want him to step forward.”
But, as is troublingly characteristic of this president, he didn’t.
The president’s policies have accelerated the growth of the federal debt to the point that it is now accumulating at the fastest rate in modern history. Yet, even as the Supercommittee worked to reverse the problem he exacerbated, the president kept his distance.
It was a cold political calculation on his part. Having already decided that his best chance for re-election is to point fingers at Congress for his own failures, he has a disincentive to help them achieve anything that could anger his base but help the country.
As CBS News’ Bill Plante reported on Monday, “The administration couldn’t be happier that this is failing.” They would hate to let good policy create bad politics. The man who ditched his own self-convened Fiscal Commission sat by while members of his party squandered yet another opportunity for fiscal responsibility.
For the last three years, the President has been all too happy to rack up record annual deficits. He’s just not especially eager to cut them. He went on a credit-card funded shopping spree, but had no interest in paying the bill. “Someone else can take care of that,” his actions seem to say.
But leaders lead. Sadly, that’s still a novel concept to President Obama, even as his third year in office comes to a close. As New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg argued Monday afternoon, “It’s the chief executive’s job to bring people together and to provide leadership. I don’t see that happening.”
The president should have offered Democrats on the Supercommittee a dose of two things they lacked: coherence and pragmatism. While the six Republicans offered a sensible path toward reaching the $1.2 trillion in prescribed deficit reductions, the Democrats continued pushing for more stimulus (yes, more spending in a deficit reduction plan!), more taxes, and a shield around the very entitlement programs that drive the debt.
Republicans offered cuts, entitlement reform, and—significantly—tax reform that would have both lowered rates and increased revenue. Taken together, this represented an appropriate balance in a time of economic hardship. It wasn’t so long ago that the president wanted a “balanced approach.”
Like all his talk of deficit reduction, that was just words. President Obama’s vow to cut the deficit by the end of his first term now seems destined for his ever-growing pile of discarded promises.
In the end, the failure of the Supercommittee is but the latest episode in a series of Democrats’ half-hearted attempts at deficit reduction. If it was not clear before, it is now: Republicans are the only party consistently offering proposals that achieve the dual goals of growing the economy and shrinking the debt.
And that means it’s time for a Republican president who’s willing to take the lead role in this fight.