Friday, July 15, 2011

Five questions for Obama

After three presidential press conferences in two weeks, I have a few questions of my own for President Obama:

1)You said today that we are dealing with two problems: the debt ceiling, which is "a problem manufactured in Washington" for political grandstanding, and the structural deficit, which is difficult but solvable. Why then have you yourself embraced negotiations under the debt ceiling deadline as "a unique opportunity to do something big"?

2) You said today that cutting $2.4 trillion in spending without adding new revenue, as Republicans have proposed, would, to paraphrase, "effectively gut a whole bunch of domestic spending." Why would making the same cuts while adding a few hundred billion in new tax revenue not "effectively gut" the programs in question?

3) You describe the cuts you were negotiating with Boehner as modest, a bit of nip-and-tuck without fundamental restructuring. Most progressives consider $3 trillion in cut spending over 10 years deeply damaging -- to Medicaid, and to already over-targeted discretionary domestic spending. Can you explain the discrepancy?

4) Your latest mantra is that we have to get spending under control before we can talk about essential new investment -- both short-term job creating measures and long-term investments in, say, education and infrastructure. This boils down to "cut and spend." That's not on its face a contradiction -- it may make sense to cut some spending and replace it with other spending -- but it does make a person want to know the tradeoffs, at least in outline.  Is the big picture that we reduce entitlements for seniors in favor of new spending in infrastructure, job training, education? But aren't some of those cuts in education?

5) Why are a plethora of so-called "mini-deals" or "plan b's" that cut trillions in spending without adding new revenue still on the table?


  1. I'll let Obama answer the other questions, but I'm not sure I see the problem in no. 1.

    Let's assume the debt ceiling in fact is manufactured in Washington (I'm pretty sure it's a legislative creature, after all), and that the structural deficit is a real problem, difficult but solvable. In that case, using the artificial deadline as an opportunity to tackle that difficult but solvable problem is potentially a legitimate response, just as I could use April 15 (an arbitrary tax deadline set by the government) as the impetus to get my overall finances in order. (Mind you, I'm not saying that this is a good or bad strategy, just that there's no real contradiction in the statements.)

    Or am I missing something?

  2. Granted that it's not necessarily *illogical* to seize a "manufactured issue" as an occasion to deal with a real one, was it "responsible* to do so with the debt ceiling, instead of asserting early and often that it simply has to be raised and is not an occasion for deficit reduction negotiation? I don't believe that such megadeals can be well done under the gun, particularly with an extremist adversary, when the consequences of failure are potentially catastrophic. In other words, for O to engage on these terms is arguably as irresponsible as for the GOP to threaten.

    Of course, he may have calculated that the risks of not doing a deal -- continued paralysis, no new stimulus -- were greater than the risk of negotiating under these circumstances.

  3. Agreed that they probably can't be done well under the gun. But they can be done, and then one or both sides can claim a victory. And it's not clear to me that the big deals get done any other way. So the cynical interpretation is that it's taking political advantage of a manufactured crisis (but potentially a real one, too, in terms of consequences); less cynically, it's seizing the opportunity to get done the best that can be done. Not sure which I believe it to be at this point...