Obamas risky fiscal cliff blame game
President Barack Obama won a second term last month after casting Republicans as the party of “the rich.” He has kept playing assorted variations on that successful campaign theme since Election Day, recently charging that GOP lawmakers now “hold middle-class tax cuts hostage simply because they refuse to let tax rates go up on the wealthiest Americans.”
But while the president’s familiar rhetoric evidently is still paying political dividends, it can’t change the daunting economic consequences that our nation faces if Washington doesn’t at last get real about our nation’s endangered fiscal future.
And that defining challenge extends far beyond the immediate mission of crafting a deal by year’s end to avert going over the “fiscal cliff.”
Judging from a Washington Post-Pew Research poll released this week, the president is still winning the blame game on who would be more responsible if an agreement isn’t reached in time to avoid steep levels of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts. Those surveyed found Republicans more at fault than Mr. Obama by a rousing 53-27 percent margin.
Yet even most analysts from the left concede that President Obama has made little or no effort to meet the Republican-controlled House in the middle in these negotiations. Indeed, many Democrats are applauding the president’s apparent strategy of forcing Speaker John Boehner to accept an accord that will trigger an open rebellion against his leadership by the GOP rank and file.
Meanwhile, all Americans should welcome Friday’s news that national unemployment fell last month to its lowest rate (7.7 percent) in nearly four years.
However, that’s still a painfully elevated jobless number — and would be considerably higher if millions of Americans hadn’t given up on finding work in the last few years.
And if (make that when) we boost taxes on “the rich,” including many small businesses that might have to cut jobs to pay that extra tab, the most optimistic projections of the extra revenue generated by that change would still leave Washington spending at least $1 trillion more a year than it collects.
As former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean put it Wednesday on MSNBC: “The only problem is — and this is initially going to seem like heresy from a progressive — the truth is everybody needs to pay more taxes, not just the rich. ... We’re not going to get out of this deficit problem unless we raise taxes across the board.”
Hey, spending cuts must be part of the solution, too.
So how serious is “this deficit problem”?
Before Mr. Obama became president, the largest annual federal budget deficit was $455 billion. Since he became president, we have recorded four consecutive deficits of at least $1 trillion. That has elevated the record national debt to $16 trillion.
Yet the president said Wednesday that he “will not play that game” of linking budget negotiations to gaining congressional approval for raising the debt ceiling.
So what’s the point of having a debt ceiling?
And at what point will a president about to enter his second term finally muster action to match his words of concern about the recklessly unbalanced budget?
Yes, the president won re-election while stressing the need for higher taxes on “the rich.”
Yes, increasing federal revenue is a necessary component of getting the nation’s fiscal house in order.
Yes, when Republicans held most of the power in Washington, they also fell far short of their own pledges to be fiscally responsible.
But by refusing to accept GOP efforts to make deeper spending cuts and entitlement reform part of their fiscal-cliff proposal, Democrats, led by the president, are abdicating their own duty to get Washington’s financial house in order.
And while those poll numbers favor them now, the bottom-line figures of a runaway federal debt present an intensifying national peril that transcends politics.