President Obama turned up on NBC’s “Meet the Press” for the first time since the passage of ObamaCare, and gave exactly the performance that every veteran Obama-watcher would have expected: a bitter, intransigent partisan claiming to be the only non-partisan, non-ideological participant in the “fiscal cliff” drama. “I’m not driven by some ideological agenda – I’m a pretty practical guy,” he explicitly stated, offering his past four years in office as evidence.
It’s too bad “Meet the Press” doesn’t have a laugh track. Obama’s interviewer, David Gregory, was willing to flagrantly violate D.C. gun laws to beat up on NRA executive Wayne LaPierre, but when President Obama takes the stage to drop insane howlers like that, America’s top outlaw journalist just sits quietly and nods. In truth, nothing about Obama’s record in office, re-election campaign, or fiscal cliff policy has been even slightly non-partisan or non-ideological. This kind of posturing gives partisanship and ideology a bad name – voters do band together into parties and vote for candidates based upon their campaign promises, after all. Whether or not either position is correct, a Republican’s ideological commitment to low taxes is no more illegitimate than Barack Obama’s stern ideological commitment to raising them.
“They say that their biggest priority is making sure that we deal with the deficit in a serious way, but the way they’re behaving is that their only priority is making sure that the tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans are protected. That seems to be their only overriding, unifying theme,” the President lied shamelessly about his Republican opponents, breezily ignoring all those calls for genuine fiscal responsibility and spending restraint from the other side of the aisle. No one who has spent more than ten seconds actually listening to Republicans talk about the fiscal cliff could fairly conclude that opposing “tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans” is their only theme. The tax increases Obama keeps demanding won’t have any serious effect on the federal fiscal crisis – even if you’re gullible enough to believe that Obama would become the first Democrat in modern history to actually spend every nickel of a “deficit reduction” tax increase on reducing the deficit, the rosiest scenario for the biggest tax hike he’s called for would not even chip 15 percent off the ten-year projected deficit. But the President is banking heavily on the idea that, between the bully pulpit of the Presidency and the bias of an activist media, few in the public are going to spend ten seconds listening to any Republicans.
The purpose of Obama’s visit to “Meet the Press” was, predictably, to run through the same dreary political posturing we’ve been hearing for ages, ever since his often-repeated campaign vows to cut spending $3 for ever $1 of tax increases became instantly and completely inoperative. “Over the next forty-eight hours, my hope is that people recognize, regardless of partisan diffferences, our top priority has to be to make sure that taxes on middle-class families do not go up. That would hurt our economy badly,” Obama said. Well, then why are you insisting on symbolic tax warfare against your class enemies instead of getting behind a deal to protect those middle-class families, Mr. President? The question is asked as fairly of one side as the other, and it’s not as if the results of the 2012 election can be impartially presented as a tie-breaker, because Obama’s not proposing anything remotely close to what he campaigned on. If he’d put his $1.6 trillion tax hike with no spending cuts on the table during the presidential campaign, David Gregory would have been interviewing President-Elect Mitt Romney today.
Obama offered up a cute line that Republicans “have trouble saying yes” to him. But what would they be interested in saying “yes” to? Obama’s notion of “repeated offers” is to repeatedly demand the same thing, over and over again. And the President’s public behavior, including Sunday’s talk-show appearance, is not lost on his GOP “negotiating” partners. They’d have to be awfully dense not to see the traps he’s been setting for them, and the more stalwart fiscal conservatives know perfectly well that the last thing America needs is another sideshow distraction from the real, and rapidly approaching, fiscal cliff. What good does it do to have everyone gasping for breath, exhausted from a titanic political struggle that barely nudges the hands on the fiscal doomsday clock? The public has only so much patience for these bitter last-minute showdowns; as with armies deployed in the field, their morale can only be sustained through so many fiery engagements. The President is burning through a huge amount of political capital to “win” a blame game that has very little to do with the larger, longer game America is about to lose.
The President is obviously happy with where he’s sitting politically, saying on “Meet the Press” that if the Democrat-controlled Senate brings a bill to preserve the Bush tax rates for everyone except the over-$250k crowd to the floor, “Republicans will have to decide if they’re going to block it, which will mean that middle class taxes do go up. I don’t think they would want to do that politically, but they may end up doing it.” In that case, the President said, “we’ll come back with a new Congress on January 4th and the first bill that will be introduced on the floor will be to cut taxes on middle-class families.”
Thus have the Republicans somehow managed to lose the tax-cut issue. They deserve a great deal of political blame for doing so. They haven’t been pushing their low-tax, pro-growth message very well during the past few years, including the 2012 presidential campaign. They don’t even talk much about the origins of the tax rates that are about to expire, or remind the public of what Democrats said about those rates when they were introduced. They made things worse in the Budget Control Act of 2011, whose ostensibly last-ditch doomsday sequestration spending cuts became a weapon in the hands of the big spenders. “If we have raised some revenue by the wealthy paying a little bit more, that would be sufficient to turn off what’s called the ‘sequester,’ these automatic spending cuts, and that also would have a better outcome for this economy long-term,” said Obama. Oh, so that’s how “deficit reduction” works! We raise taxes in order to turn off the spending cuts?
There’s no question that Obama and the Democrats are bold about pursuing the ideological agenda that Obama wants us to pretend they don’t have, while Republicans have been timid. That gives the President plenty of room to cruise onto talk shows and play blame games, with himself cast as an innocent problem-solver frustrated by all the partisan bickering, following a re-election that he clearly thinks has flushed the first four years of his record down the Memory Hole. There’s no chance that anything significant will be done about our looming fiscal crisis or irresponsible government spending any time soon, but soon we’ll find out whose taxes go up, and who gets blamed for it.
Update: House Speaker John Boehner responds to President Obama’s appearance on “Meet the Press”:
???Americans elected President Obama to lead, not cast blame. The president???s comments today are ironic, as a recurring theme of our negotiations was his unwillingness to agree to anything that would require him to stand up to his own party. Needed cuts and reforms that the president agreed to just last year were no longer on the table, as he cited an inability to sell them to Democrats.
???In an effort to get the president to agree to cut spending — which is the problem — I put revenues on the table last year, and I put them on the table again last month. Republicans made every effort to reach the ???balanced??? deficit agreement that the president promised the American people, while the president has continued to insist on a package skewed dramatically in favor of higher taxes that would destroy jobs. We???ve been reasonable and responsible. The president is the one who has never been able to get to ???yes.???
???The House has passed legislation to avert the entire fiscal cliff, and the president has never called for the Senate to act on those bills in any way. He instead has simply allowed the Democratic-controlled Senate to sit on them and lead our economy to the edge of the fiscal cliff. I am pleased Senators from both parties are currently working to find a bipartisan solution that can finally pass that chamber. That is the type of leadership America needs, not what they saw from the president this morning.???
Update: Statement from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who spent Sunday afternoon in fiscal cliff discussions: “It’s impossible to get to any deal on the fiscal cliff when Majority Leader Reid and President Obama refuse to consider meaningful cuts in spending. They are demanding we raise taxes on working families and small businesses – and worse – using these tax increases for more government spending. Sending more taxpayer dollars to Washington isn’t the solution to this situation; cutting wasteful government spending and enabling Americans to keep more of their own money is.”
Update: Statement from Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA): “I still hope we can avert the worst consequences of the fiscal cliff and protect as many Americans as possible from a massive tax increase. Unfortunately, the most recent proposal from the Democrats calls for new tax increases to pay for more government spending. We need less spending, not more, in Washington.”