The Chicago Tribune published a tough editorial on Obama’s sequestration theatrics on Wednesday, which began with a weary sigh: “Another day, another outcry from President Barack Obama – this one in Newport News, Va. – about the parade of horribles that will arrive Friday when automatic federal spending cuts begin: air travel delays, weaker law enforcement, less money for defense contractors.”
The Trib isn’t super happy with the Republicans either, as the sharp sting of “acrimony” between both “the President and his strident foes in Congress” burns their editorial nostrils. They’re not looking forward to a long future of “austerity” squabbles if Washington doesn’t get its house in order – and that’s going to mean cutting a hell of a lot more than the $85 billion so bitterly contested to date. But they reserve their heaviest criticism for Obama’s lack of leadership:
The president isn’t focusing his speeches on how to fix entitlements that are drive our toxic debt. Instead he wants to circumvent the so-called sequester of spending cuts that his White House suggested in 2011 and that, following approval by Democrats and Republicans in Congress, he signed into law.
Perplexing. We can’t know why Obama, the man with the most secure job in Washington, isn’t leading rescue efforts for entitlement programs, as he promised to do even before he took office four years ago. Because without that rescue, federal budgeting will be this week’s ugly exercise in perpetuity: constant Washington battles about what little the government can afford as resources shrink, or as taxing and borrowing rise, to pay for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and, soon, Obamacare.
We wish the president would exploit his wealth of political capital and explain what he knows: You people enjoy all this talk about long customs lines and closures at national parks? Get used to it. Because unless we fix these programs, your future will be the bleak austerity that this sequester has me threatening.
His strategy instead is to provoke citizens into demanding that tax hikes on the wealthy replace the scheduled spending cuts. His speeches give the impression of a man exaggerating his arguments for exaggerated effect: Removing a comparatively small $85 billion from the final seven months of a $3.6 trillion budget just isn’t the biggest danger our republic will confront in this or any decade. Managed well, any family, business or government should be able to cut its budget by 2.4 percent in difficult times.
(Emphases mine.) Oh, come now, Tribune editors. Is that really so “perplexing?” When Obama pretends to care about deficit reduction at all, he sees it solely and entirely as leverage to demand tax increases. He’s not going to spend any of that political capital – his entire strategy for “governing” involves accumulating political capital until his political balance sheet intimidates his opponents into capitulation. One of the poor saps that succeeds him can deal with the entitlement meltdown; he’ll be enjoying a long, posh retirement when it happens.
And Barack Obama is far from the first or only politician, of either party, who has adopted that strategy. Allow me to remind the Tribune editors of the sage words of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who held a rally called “Back Off Social Security!” in March 2011 and declared, “Two decades from now, I’m willing to take a look at it.” The Democrat Party, as a whole, is not interested in doing anything about entitlements beyond hooking up a couple of emergency panic batteries to the “third rail of American politics” and hoping Republicans burst into flames when they touch it. Not that most Republicans are really serious about entitlement reform, either.
But the Republicans are at least a bit interested in cuts to discretionary spending, and the Chicago Tribune is right to castigate Obama for the absurd fear-mongering he has deployed in response:
This scare-mongering could boomerang. Any American paying attention understands that Republicans reluctantly accepted tax increases to end the fiscal-cliff standoff. University of Maryland economist Peter Morici calculates that those changes eliminated 80 percent of the benefits of tax deductions — mortgage interest, state income taxes, local property taxes and the like — for wealthier households. Going back to that well won’t yield much. Now Democrats, in turn, need to reluctantly accept the sequester spending cuts that they helped put on the calendar.
Or Democrats could help cancel these cuts before they slowly unfold in coming months. That would require them to help craft entitlement reforms. Democrats could explain that, given the explosive spending of the Bush and Obama years, they need to slow the growth of those programs or doom them to insolvency.
Again with the entitlement reform fantasies! Such illusions are a luxury we really can’t afford any more, unlike most of the things Obama has threatened to destroy if he doesn’t get his tax increases.