Today saw our President’s attempt to look commanding on the topic of the sequester, which was his idea 18 months ago but has been embraced by Republicans as the only real opportunity to actually rein in the federal budget and cut the deficit amid his unserious refusals to make any effort at doing so.
And now, with the opposition recognizing that unlike in the debt limit fight in which inertia favored Obama’s position of raising taxes the sequester affords Republicans budget cuts simply by doing nothing, the House majority has dug in behind an imperfect but real imposition of fiscal discipline.
Outmaneuvered and hoisted on his own petard, the president assembled a host of policemen as a backdrop for a petulant, indefensible and clownish speech, which we will gleefully take apart below…
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning, everybody. (Applause.) Please have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House.
As I said in my State of the Union address last week, our top priority must be to do everything we can to grow the economy and create good, middle-class jobs. That’s our top priority. That’s our North Star. That drives every decision we make. And it has to drive every decision that Congress and everybody in Washington makes over the next several years.
If the economy is of such paramount importance, why hasn’t Obama moved to a decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline? Why did he disband his Jobs Council? Where is his proposed legislation on reforming the world’s highest corporate income tax rate? Where was any substantive discussion of the economy in his State of the Union speech?
To open an address with so bald-faced and transparent a lie is a bad sign.
But it gets worse.
And that’s why it’s so troubling that just 10 days from now, Congress might allow a series of automatic, severe budget cuts to take place that will do the exact opposite. It won’t help the economy, won’t create jobs, will visit hardship on a whole lot of people.
Those automatic, severe budget cuts were Obama’s idea. This must be understood. And by the way, the House has passed no less than three separate bills which replace the cuts in the sequester with more targeted, less painful and smarter budgetary adjustments. Those have died in the Senate Obama’s friend Harry Reid controls.
Here’s what’s at stake. Over the last few years, both parties have worked together to reduce our deficits by more than $2.5 trillion. More than two-thirds of that was through some pretty tough spending cuts. The rest of it was through raising taxes — tax rates on the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. And together, when you take the spending cuts and the increased tax rates on the top 1 percent, it puts us more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.
A lie. There have been no spending cuts to speak of. What “cuts” have been made were to the rate of growth, and you get zero credit for cutting the rate of growth when you’re running a record deficit.
And $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years won’t even cut the current deficit in half. To use this as a goal isn’t just insufficient; it’s insane.
The entire paragraph above is gobbledygook. It is meaningless. It bears no relation to reality whatsoever.
Now, Congress, back in 2011, also passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach that $4 trillion goal, about a trillion dollars of additional, arbitrary budget cuts would start to take effect this year. And by the way, the whole design of these arbitrary cuts was to make them so unattractive and unappealing that Democrats and Republicans would actually get together and find a good compromise of sensible cuts as well as closing tax loopholes and so forth. And so this was all designed to say we can’t do these bad cuts; let’s do something smarter. That was the whole point of this so-called sequestration.
Congress passed that law on Obama’s suggestion, and he signed it. He abjectly refuses to take any responsibility of his own for the sequester.
Remember when Harry Truman took pride in that sign on his desk reading “The buck stops here?” That seems so long ago.
Unfortunately, Congress didn’t compromise. They haven’t come together and done their jobs, and so as a consequence, we’ve got these automatic, brutal spending cuts that are poised to happen next Friday.
Where was Obama’s program of spending cuts that would offset the sequester? Does anyone remember such a program? Has he, after more than four years in office, presented any ideas for consolidating government programs? For ending any? For making reductions in the role of the federal government out of a duty to prioritize and economize?
And he accuses Congress of not doing their jobs. The Innocent Bystander President, indeed.
Now, if Congress allows this meat-cleaver approach to take place, it will jeopardize our military readiness; it will eviscerate job-creating investments in education and energy and medical research. It won’t consider whether we’re cutting some bloated program that has outlived its usefulness, or a vital service that Americans depend on every single day. It doesn’t make those distinctions.
Why isn’t it Obama’s responsibility to preserve military readiness through presenting a reorganized and leaner military? Why doesn’t he have a list of bloated programs which should be cut? Is Obama employed by the federal government at all? Does he know that he’s been elected twice to the job he still seems to be running for?
Emergency responders like the ones who are here today — their ability to help communities respond to and recover from disasters will be degraded. Border Patrol agents will see their hours reduced. FBI agents will be furloughed. Federal prosecutors will have to close cases and let criminals go. Air traffic controllers and airport security will see cutbacks, which means more delays at airports across the country. Thousands of teachers and educators will be laid off. Tens of thousands of parents will have to scramble to find childcare for their kids. Hundreds of thousands of Americans will lose access to primary care and preventive care like flu vaccinations and cancer screenings.
Why would emergency responders and teachers be laid off? They don’t work for the federal government, but for state and local governments. Why can’t state and local governments handle that burden? And can Obama not find any better cuts to meet a maximum eight percent across-the-board reduction in discretionary spending than federal prosecutors, airport security and FBI agents?
How stupid does this president believe the American people to be?
Scratch that. You don’t need to answer that. They did more research into the electorate last year than any political campaign in world history.
And already, the threat of these cuts has forced the Navy to delay an aircraft carrier that was supposed to deploy to the Persian Gulf. And as our military leaders have made clear, changes like this — not well thought through, not phased in properly — changes like this affect our ability to respond to threats in unstable parts of the world.
Ralph Peters, writing at the New York Post, dissected this business of the aircraft carrier with aplomb. He likened the inaction of the Harry S. Truman to Donald Trump claiming he can’t afford a cab.
So these cuts are not smart. They are not fair. They will hurt our economy. They will add hundreds of thousands of Americans to the unemployment rolls. This is not an abstraction — people will lose their jobs. The unemployment rate might tick up again.
And Obama thinks that won’t happen if, instead of the sequester, we merely conduct another round of tax increases on job creators. To wit…
And that’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists, they’ve already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as sequestration, are a bad idea. They’re not good for our economy. They’re not how we should run our government.
And here’s the thing: They don’t have to happen. There is a smarter way to do this –- to reduce our deficits without harming our economy. But Congress has to act in order for that to happen.
Now, for two years, I’ve offered a balanced approach to deficit reduction that would prevent these harmful cuts. I outlined it again last week at the State of the Union. I am willing to cut more spending that we don’t need, get rid of programs that aren’t working. I’ve laid out specific reforms to our entitlement programs that can achieve the same amount of health care savings by the beginning of the next decade as the reforms that were proposed by the bipartisan Simpson-Bowles commission. I’m willing to save hundreds of billions of dollars by enacting comprehensive tax reform that gets rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well off and well connected, without raising tax rates.
Ahhhh, tax reform.
Where is Obama’s bill? He’s not capable of presenting Congress with proposed legislation to reform the tax code? If he is, where is it?
Obama seems to think that all he needs to do is make a speech with zero details on how legislation should be crafted, and the House immediately votes that speech into law. He’s “willing” to save hundreds of billions of dollars by getting rid of loopholes, so it should just happen.
And if it doesn’t, despite the fact he offers no actual legislation, it’s John Boehner’s fault when nothing happens.
Bear in mind that the House has offered legislation on a number of these fronts time after time. None of those bills even get a vote in Reid’s Senate. Does Obama bear any responsibility for that? Should he address this phenomenon before blaming the entire mess on the Republicans in the House?
You don’t have to answer that, either.
I believe such a balanced approach that combines tax reform with some additional spending reforms, done in a smart, thoughtful way is the best way to finish the job of deficit reduction and avoid these cuts once and for all that could hurt our economy, slow our recovery, put people out of work. And most Americans agree with me.
A balanced approach. Taxes were raised to the tune of $600 billion over the New Year’s holiday, which was actually $200 billion less than Boehner offered since his solution was to eliminate the very deductions Obama is now grousing about only to be rebuffed by the president in favor of the counterproductive Holy Grail of raising the top tax rate. Now that he got his tax increase, his idea of balance is to get another hike. This is known as balance inside Obama’s head.
The House and the Senate are working on budgets that I hope reflect this approach. But if they can’t get such a budget agreement done by next Friday — the day these harmful cuts begin to take effect — then at minimum, Congress should pass a smaller package of spending cuts and tax reforms that would prevent these harmful cuts — not to kick the can down the road, but to give them time to work together on a plan that finishes the job of deficit reduction in a sensible way.
Nothing from Obama on the fact that his administration broke the law by failing to send Congress a budget by the mandated deadline. Not an apology, not an acknowledgement, nothing. It’s the House’s fault if they can’t agree on the budget Obama provided no help with. Because they’re the ones guilty of kicking the can down the road, you see.
I know Democrats in the House and in the Senate have proposed such a plan — a balanced plan, one that pairs more spending cuts with tax reform that closes special interest loopholes and makes sure that billionaires can’t pay a lower tax rate than their salary — their secretaries.
And I know that Republicans have proposed some ideas, too. I have to say, though, that so far at least the ideas that the Republicans have proposed ask nothing of the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations, so the burden is all on first responders or seniors or middle-class families. They double down, in fact, on the harsh, harmful cuts that I’ve outlined. They slash Medicare and investments that create good, middle-class jobs. And so far at least what they’ve expressed is a preference where they’d rather have these cuts go into effect than close a single tax loophole for the wealthiest Americans. Not one.
The Republicans allowed a rate increase on the top tax bracket to pass when they could have stopped it. Obama refuses to acknowledge that fact, as it paints his statements as provable lies. Instead he engages in the basest demagoguery; Medicare isn’t addressed in the sequester.
Again, Obama has not proposed a “single tax loophole” in the context of legislation. Not one. He blames the Republicans for not acting on something he himself has not done.
Well, that’s not balanced. That would be like Democrats saying we have to close our deficits without any spending cuts whatsoever. It’s all taxes. That’s not the position Democrats have taken. That’s certainly not the position I’ve taken. It’s wrong to ask the middle class to bear the full burden of deficit reduction. And that’s why I will not sign a plan that harms the middle class.
Actually, that IS the position Obama has taken. If it wasn’t, this would be a different fight.
So now Republicans in Congress face a simple choice: Are they willing to compromise to protect vital investments in education and health care and national security and all the jobs that depend on them? Or would they rather put hundreds of thousands of jobs and our entire economy at risk just to protect a few special interest tax loopholes that benefit only the wealthiest Americans and biggest corporations? That’s the choice.
Are you willing to see a bunch of first responders lose their job because you want to protect some special interest tax loophole? Are you willing to have teachers laid off, or kids not have access to Head Start, or deeper cuts in student loan programs just because you want to protect a special tax interest loophole that the vast majority of Americans don’t benefit from? That’s the choice. That’s the question.
Excuse us, but didn’t Head Start just get panned as a complete waste of billions of dollars? Why yes, in fact, it did. Panned by no less a conservative bastion than…the Department of Health and Human Services. Not that anyone will act on those conclusions, by, say, eliminating Head Start and letting states and local governments come up with better answers on early childhood education. After all, we’ve only pissed away $180 billion on Head Start; what’s another $180 billion in “investments?”
And this is not an abstraction. There are people whose livelihoods are at stake. There are communities that are going to be impacted in a negative way. And I know that sometimes all this squabbling in Washington seems very abstract, and in the abstract, people like the idea, there must be some spending we can cut, there must be some waste out there. There absolutely is. But this isn’t the right way to do it.
Union livelihoods. All you need to know.
Will Obama agree to save money by eliminating the Davis-Bacon Act, which establishes a prevailing union wage in all federal construction projects? That would eliminate a substantial amount of cost. But you won’t hear any such thing from the president.
So my door is open. I’ve put tough cuts and reforms on the table. I am willing to work with anybody to get this job done. None of us will get 100 percent of what we want. But nobody should want these cuts to go through, because the last thing our families can afford right now is pain imposed unnecessarily by partisan recklessness and ideological rigidity here in Washington.
Lies. Shameful lies. Ask the House Republicans how often Obama has reached out to them to “work with anybody to get this done.”
As I said at the State of the Union, the American people have worked too hard, too long, rebuilding from one crisis to see their elected officials cause yet another one. And it seems like every three months around here there’s some manufactured crisis. We’ve got more work to do than to just try to dig ourselves out of these self-inflicted wounds.
Whose chief of staff said “never let a crisis go to waste?” Was it Boehner’s? Mitch McConnell’s?
And while a plan to reduce our deficit has to be part of our agenda, we also have to remember deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. We learned in the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was President, nothing shrinks the deficit faster than a growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs. That should be our driving focus — making America a magnet for good jobs. Equipping our people with the skills required to fill those jobs. Making sure their hard work leads to a decent living. Those are the things we should be pushing ourselves to think about and work on every single day. That’s what the American people expect. That’s what I’m going to work on every single day to help deliver.
Yes, Obama just cited Bill Clinton – whose governance he has failed to emulate in any way.
So I need everybody who’s watching today to understand we’ve got a few days. Congress can do the right thing. We can avert just one more Washington-manufactured problem that slows our recovery, and bring down our deficits in a balanced, responsible way. That’s my goal. That’s what would do right by these first responders. That’s what would do right by America’s middle class. That’s what I’m going to be working on and fighting for not just over the next few weeks, but over the next few years.
Thanks very much, everybody. Thank you, guys, for your service. (Applause.)
The applause for such a hideous pack of lies, obfuscations and evasions might have been the most unbearable moment in the entire spectacle.