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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Obama Group

Welcome to the Obama Group - starring Barack Obama as Mediator-in-chief.

It's beginning to look like a great idea for a television show.   The Healthcare Summit....the Budget Summit....the Beer Summit....all these summits between opposing groups with our Mediator-in-chief standing as the voice of reason between them.  Except, that's not in his job description and he's still campaigning as a Democrat, right?

During yesterday's meeting, he seemed to be moderating a debate between the GOP and the Dems, as if the Dems were some outside group having nothing to do with him.  Our problem isn't that we need a counselor to effect the issue of conflict resolution.  What we need is a President who wants to act like a President.  Obama kicked off his re-election campaign this past week, but he needs to show he really wants the job now, first.

The Democrats controlled the House of Republicans, the Senate and the Presidency for every day of 2010.  The Democrats could have passed a budget at any time last year and the Republicans had little to no leverage in stopping them.  All they had to do was find a couple Republican votes in the Senate and they would be unstoppable.

They did nothing all year long.  Then after the November elections when they realized that they were about to hand the 2011 budget creation to the Republicans in the House, the Democrat leadership created a huge pork-filled omnibus spending bill that was so terrible, it was never even brought up for a vote.  The Democrats wasted their opportunity to lead in 2010.

Today, the President is wasting his opportunity to lead.  In 2006, when the Democrats took power in Congress, the budget deficit was $162 billion.  Under Democrat leadership, Congress and this President has raised the yearly budget deficit to over $1.5 trillion.

The Republican budget proposal seeks to cut $61 billion from a $3.5 trillion dollar budget.  Our Federal revenue only projects to be about $2 trillion.  The Democrats are playing a game of "I'll meet you halfway" rather than actually looking at the budget as an adult.  Isn't it time that our politicians stopped doing the political thing and started doing the right thing?

The real problem is that the Democrats, as a party, are beholden to such a large collection of disparate groups that depend on the Federal government for money.  Planned Parenthood, NPR, PBS, AARP, green companies, Fannie & Freddie, the Post Office along with a whole host of smaller community groups will be devastated by needed budget cuts.

This isn't to say that no groups owe their existence to Republican votes, but ending agriculture and energy subsidies will be a welcome trade-off to Republicans if it means the end of subsidizing other non-vital spending such as the groups that Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer seek to protect.

Which of course brings me back to Paul Ryan's The Path to Prosperity.  Is it perfect?  No.  But it is the closest we can come to a reset on spending, while avoiding a dismantling of our entitlement programs.  In it he proposes ending the politically popular agriculture and energy subsidies, as well as privatizing Fannie & Freddie.  There is enough in his proposal for both sides to hate, that it makes for what can only be described as a truly fair proposal.

Medicare and Medicaid spending growth is unsustainable if left alone.  Something has to be done - either now or later.  If we act now, we can preserve the current plan for those at or near retirement.  If we wait, that option goes away.  Even if you are in favor of using tax dollars to promote certain causes, entitlement growth will squeeze that option away.

For a left leaning perspective on Ryan's plan, here's SLATE.
...liberals might want to consider whether some of what he proposes doesn't in fact serve their own ultimate goals....it's hard to make a principled liberal case for the program in its current form. To do so, you have to argue that government-paid health care should be a right only for people over the age of 65, and for no one else. Medicare covers doctor and hospital bills at 100 percent, regardless of income. This gives doctors and patients an incentive to maximize their use of the system and waste public resources. Choosing to pay 100 percent of Warren Buffett's medical bills while cutting Head Start reflects a strange set of social priorities, to say the least.
Ryan's alternative to Medicare hardly seems as terrible as Paul Krugman makes out. Seniors would enter the health care world the rest of us live in, with co-payments, deductibles and managed care. But starting with a value of $15,000 per year, per senior—the amount government now spends on Medicare—Ryan's vouchers should provide excellent coverage. His change would amount to a minor amendment to the social contract, not a fundamental revision of it.
Effectively constraining the growth of Medicare could make it possible for Democrats to do a lot else that's important to them in the future.
It's important to understand the two very different budget discussions taking place in Washington today.  The one taking place between the President and Congress right now is about stepping back from the excessive spending that is harming our present economy.

The other is about finding a long term solution to our long term debt and spending that threatens to unleash a financial calamity unlike anything we can possibly even imagine. 

Brian Kaller has an article that describes the effects of the economic crisis as they have been felt in Ireland.  In The Wreck of the Irish, he writes,
Serious crashes can happen, of course, and our technology does not make us immune to them. There is a reason Ireland has so much open country and so many ruins; in an earlier age of railroads and mass communications, one crop failed, and a third of the island’s eight million people died or fled. We Americans have lived for decades at the other extreme of prosperity. Most nations live somewhere in-between—which is where the U.S. is likely to find itself sooner rather than later.
At some point America will witness a crash much worse than the Great Recession.
The United States of America has stood up to the great British army, the Nazis and Communism, but we will be brought down by ourselves if we do not soon make a change.

The problem is worse than you think...
If the President really wants to be a leader, he needs to stop coddling the interest group constituencies and not only take the Republicans offer, but raise the stakes.  Accept their proposed cuts and offer some more. 

It's time to stop being the man in the middle and start being the man in charge.  President Reagan, after taking office in 1981, sent a tax proposal to Congress and told them to send it back without changing anything or he wouldn't sign it.  They passed it, without amendment and he signed it.  The result was an era of prosperity and unprecedented economic growth.

Paul Ryan has stepped into the void created by President Obama's lack of leadership on the budget.  If the President really wants to shut down the government over $30 billion during the same week the Republicans propose a plan to balance the budget and eliminate the $14 trillion national debt, then the President really has taken leave of his duties.  Not exactly a great way to kick off a re-election campaign, is it?

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