Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Will Obama Embrace Shared Sacrifice or Just Sacrifice Values?

Updated 6 p.m. est

Angry GOP reaction to President Obama's shared sacrifice agenda was fast and furious today, with Republicans slamming him over his refusal to allow Medicare to become a voucher program and his vow to tax the richest Americans at pre-Bush levels.

"What we heard today was a political broadside from our campaigner-in-chief," said House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin lawmaker who authored the plan that would further cut taxes for the rich and force seniors off Medicare and into a voucher program. "Exploiting people's emotions of fear, envy, anxiety — it's not hope. It's not change. It's partisanship. We don't need partisanship."

"I don't know about my colleagues, but I asked myself, 'And I missed lunch for this?'" added House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas.

Several likely GOP candidates for President alsao weighed in.

"President Obama's proposals are too little, too late. Instead of supporting spending cuts that lead to real deficit reduction and true reform of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, the president dug deep into his liberal playbook for 'solutions' highlighted by higher taxes," said ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

"Today's speech was nothing more than window dressing," former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a statement. 

end update

Updated 2:30 p.m. est

It was much ado about something.

President Obama rolled out a plan today that calls for $4 trillion in cuts over 12 years by cutting spending and raising taxes on the richest Americans who for the past decade were given a free ride thanks to the Bush-era tax cuts.

"The most fortunate among us can afford pay a little more," Obama said, vowing not to extend the $1 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans for a second time.

"There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill," Obama said in a speech at George Washington University.

"Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy," Obama said of the GOP plan.

"Think about it. In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90% of all working Americans actually declined. The top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each.  And that’s who needs to pay less taxes? They want to give people like me a two hundred thousand dollar tax cut that’s paid for by asking thirty three seniors to each pay six thousand dollars more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President," Obama said.

The shared sacrifice agenda embraced by Obama comes as Congress must raise the debt ceiling -- the amount the federal government is allowed to borrow. The debt ceiling currently sits at $14.294 trillion.

Obama wants to cut $3 in spending for every $1 in new taxes, but he rejected a House GOP scheme to privatize Medicare for seniors by forcing them to go on a voucher program that will make their pals in the insurance industry richer, but will not make elder Americans any healthier.

"I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform these programs, but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations," Obama said. "That includes, by the way, our commitment to Social Security."

end update

There is a slim chance that today's budget speech by President Obama will be much ado about nothing.

There is case to be made Obama would be foolish to get too specific today in the face of a base that wonders how much he we sell them out to get re-elected, along with the angry Tea Party opposition, who blame him for the economic hard times over the corporate greed and Wall Street shenanigans that brought the country to the brink of being broke (not to mention they still think he was born in Kenya).

Obama does not have to go out on a limb today since he has already cut the deal that kept the government open. The fact that Republicans are urging him to be specific should be a red flag for the palace guard at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

The President has already made bad on one campaign promise -- to let the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich expire -- and he does not need to add to that list. The GOP would love to box Obama in again and get him to do another flip-flop on a major agenda item.

The Republicans, with the help of many in the corporate media, have framed the budget narrative around three so-called taboos: cutting social security and Medicare, no tax cuts for the rich and no tampering with the Pentagon's budget. The GOP wants Obama to cut the entitlement programs that Americans paid into their whole working lives, but to keep his hands off tax cuts for the rich and the Department of Defense purse strings. 

"We need to consider all three legs of the stool when we're dealing with the deficit. And that's entitlements, tax expenditures and defense spending," spokesman Jay Carney admitted without saying much more about the President's speech.

Hmmmm? Might that be a signal that Obama will embrace shared sacrifice rather than trying to balance the budget on the backs of the middle class.

The Republicans are not taking any chances, already chanting their no-tax mantra ahead of the President's address.

"Tomorrow, I will make clear to the President: Americans don’t want their taxes raised, they want Washington to get its fiscal house in order," House GOP leader Eric Cantor Tweeted on the eve of the President's speech.

Cantor, like his boss, GOP House Speaker John Boehner, still needs to placate their scorched-earth constituents in the Tea Party.

"Tea Partiers simply do not understand how democracy works. And they compound their ignorance with arrogance," Steve and Cokie Roberts write in their synicated newspaper column.

"In the 2012 election, the Tea Party could be the best thing that ever happened to Barack Obama. In early primary states like Iowa and South Carolina, party activists could force Republican candidates to make outlandish promises that play well at Tea Party rallies but cripple the GOP's nominee in the fall election," they added.

To make the point that there are real deep cuts in the compromise, Boehner has said there are "no blue smoke and mirrors" in the budget, but National Journal throws a wrench in that statement, showing many of the cuts are indeed slight of hand.

But, make no mistake there are cuts in the deal that kept the government from shutting down. From home heating programs to high-speed rail, Rolling Stone lists 10 programs that take a hit in the budget compromise.

The big business lobby also prevailed in wiping out a model health insurance voucher program as part of the budget deal, The New York Times reports.

Despite the blood money that is thrown around in the nation-building wars of revenge that Obama inherited from Ex-President George W. Bush, the budget deal guts funding for that foreign aid. "The actual cuts in FY 2011 and anticipated reductions [in] FY 2012 come as international responsibilities for the Department of State and USAID are actually expanding in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Egypt," ex-State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in an email to The Huffington Post.

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