Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is Obama preparing for nuclear budgetary war?


It's a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation; new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive; new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and industries; new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. That is the new foundation we must build. That must be our future – and my Administration's policies are designed to achieve that future.
That's Obama laying out his broader economic vision -- in April 2009. Three of the five pillars match the five cornerstones he laid down in yesterday/s speech on long term economic growth -- or rather two and a half, as his "jobs" cornerstone yesterday centered in large part on renewable energy.

As many pointed out, there were no new proposals in Obama's speech yesterday, and not much detail -- it was a framework, with details to be supplied in an upcoming series of speeches. And that's okay. As the political storms of autumn approach, dullness is good. Repetition is good. Reminder of what Obama is about -- how he thinks, how he carries himself, what he wants -- is useful, even if it doesn't excite anyone now. It's an impression scheduled for timed release.

Presidents can't change public opinion by force of rhetoric. Nor can Obama usually leverage public opinion that's already on his side to effectively pressure an exremist House GOP more answerable to its base than to the public at large.  And public opinion is on his side with regard to his broad economic priorities. The 2012 election demonstrated that.

What Obama can perhaps do with rhetoric is tilt the nuclear battleground in his favor. Here's how Greg Sargent read his purpose yesterday:
Republicans won’t ever act on any of Obama’s jobs policies, so this speech was partly an effort to place Obama rhetorically on the side of the middle class, just when the GOP is set to renew its push for more spending cuts amid a series of divisive crises this fall. Given implacable GOP opposition to his agenda, Obama has little choice but to try to seize the rhetorical and ideological initiative in hopes that it will make a difference in the spending fights ahead, and beyond that in the midterm elections.
I would sharpen the sense of the planned counterpunch a bit, in light of Republicans announced plans for more legislative terrorism. That is, if an extremist GOP, drunk with its budget war victories over Obama since 2011, rivets the entire nation by shutting down the government because Obama won't agree to defund Obamacare, or threatens the nation with default because Obama won't agree to ruinous new spending cuts on top of sequestration -- then Obama's sane, sober, repetitive, essentially centrist calls for long-term investment and commitment to the middle class should trigger a public opinion backlash against the GOP, just as Bill Clinton's did when the Republicans shut down the government because the president wouldn't agree to massive cuts to Medicaid and Medicare.

Obama has always effectively positioned himself as the adult in the room. What he hasn't always done is face down the GOP effectively.  He embraced their debt ceiling terrorism in summer 2011 as "a unique opportunity to do something big."  He let them off the mat this January when the expiration of the Bush tax cuts gave him unique, irrecoverable leverage.  He let the door slam on sequestration because he's never been willing to risk a GOP-induced crisis.

He may get another chance this fall. And his legislative strategy has been clear, and more nuanced than in 2011: pick off a few negotiation-minded Republican senators, enough to get cloture and get some sane spending bills passed in the Senate That would at least isolate the House as it weighs a government shutdown or debt ceiling default.  Obama's rhetoric yesterday advanced this strategy, threading a needle between his conciliatory rhetoric in spring/summer 2011 and his campaign-mode rhetorical combat thereafter.

During his doomed negotiations under threat of national default in the summer of 2011, Obama sought to create what he later called a "permission structure" for GOP compromise by directing his admonishments against "Congress" or "Washington" rather than the no-compromise GOP. Once the disastrous Budget Control Act passed in August of that year, he changed tack and started slamming Republicans by name for blocking the jobs agenda he unfurled in September. Yesterday, he tossed a few barbs at "Washington" but also divided the Republican baby -- doing his fighting, to borrow one of his favorite metaphors, with a scalpel:
We’ve seen a sizable group of Republican lawmakers suggest they wouldn’t vote to pay the very bills that Congress rang up – a fiasco that harmed a fragile recovery in 2011, and one we can’t afford to repeat. Then, rather than reduce our deficits with a scalpel – by cutting programs we don’t need, fixing ones we do and making government more efficient – this same group has insisted on leaving in place a meat cleaver called the sequester that has cost jobs, harmed growth, hurt our military and gutted investments in American education and scientific and medical research that we need to make this country a magnet for good jobs.

Over the past six months, this gridlock has gotten worse. A growing number of Republican senators are trying to get things done, like an immigration bill that economists say will boost our economy by more than a trillion dollars. But a faction of Republicans in the House won’t even give that bill a vote, and gutted a farm bill that America’s farmers and most vulnerable children depend on.

If you ask some of these Republicans about their economic agenda, or how they’d strengthen the middle class, they’ll shift the topic to “out-of-control” government spending – despite the fact that we have cut the deficit by nearly half as a share of the economy since I took office. Or they’ll talk about government assistance for the poor, despite the fact that they’ve already cut early education for vulnerable kids and insurance for people who’ve lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Or they’ll bring up Obamacare, despite the fact that our businesses have created nearly twice as many jobs in this recovery as they had at the same point in the last recovery, when there was no Obamacare.

With an endless parade of distractions, political posturing and phony scandals, Washington has taken its eye off the ball.
I don't mind  him taking a swipe at "Washington" when the real culprits have been pinpointed as above.

Obama has said that he won't negotiate over the debt ceiling. He most definitely will not agree to spending bills that defund Obamacare implementation.   Will events finally drive him to hold firm in some kind of full-scale showdown with intransigent Republicans?

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