The Nation editorial

President Obama’s speech unveiling his deficit reduction plan contained few big surprises—by its very premise, it was destined to preserve the faulty assumptions behind the whole deficit discussion—but some of his words were welcome. The president called Social Security and Medicare fundamental American commitments and, in a rebuke to Congressman Paul Ryan, left these entitlement programs largely untouched. He also refused to renew Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s a pledge Obama has made—and broken—in the past, but let’s take at face value his sincerity on the matter. (All the better to hold him to it.)

From there the president outlined his plan to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion in the next twelve years, based on the principle of “shared sacrifice.” Here’s what that looks like: for every $1 raised by closing tax loopholes for wealthy Americans, Obama proposes $2 in spending cuts. Two-thirds of those cuts would come from education, health and other social programs while one-third would come from the military budget. The president’s vision of “shared sacrifice,” in other words, hits the poor and the middle class hardest. Meanwhile, wealthy Americans and the military are asked to sacrifice less, even though it was unfunded tax cuts and wars that got us a deficit in the first place.

The problem with starting with such skewed priorities is that Obama will be negotiating with the Republican Party, whose reverse–Robin Hood agenda proposes sacrifices almost entirely from the poor and middle class to pay for tax breaks for corporations and the rich. Indeed, just such a give-and-take is how we ended up with the 2011 budget compromise that averted a shutdown at the expense of $38 billion in spending cuts, the majority of which will come from the departments of education, labor and health. It’s a rotten deal, which the president curiously chose to hail as “the largest annual spending cut in history.” Any more victories like this and Obama will become a new American synonym for “Pyrrhic.” The cuts in the 2011 budget—“79 percent of what we wanted,” in Paul Ryan’s words—will be exacted immediately, despite an economy still struggling to recover from the worst downturn since the Great Depression, one in which 25 million people are still bereft of full-time work.

Lost in this discussion is what the country needs: a clear strategy to rebuild the economy and revive the middle class. That requires making the investments vital to our future and figuring out how to pay for them. It requires taxing what we have too much of (financial speculation and extreme concentrations of wealth) and investing in what we have too little of (education like pre-K and affordable college, twenty-first-century infrastructure, renewable energy). And it means addressing the real source of our long-term debt crisis: not Social Security or Medicare, not “entitlements” but a broken healthcare system, dominated by powerful drug, insurance and hospital lobbies, that costs about twice as much per capita as the health system of any other industrialized country and producing worse results.

The sad fact is, President Obama knows much of this. He spoke compellingly of the injustice of an economy in which the top 1 percent enjoys quarter-million-dollar windfalls while everyone else struggles. He gets that rising healthcare costs are a burden, and that deficit-cutting is no excuse for neglecting our country’s future. But his “balanced approach” conceded too much too early to the deficit hawks and austerity pushers. He needed to reset the debate, but instead he split the difference.

7 Comments

  1. Michael W Gooch on April 15, 2011 at 10:23 am

    No surprise! Obama is more of a republiCON that ronald reagan.



  2. June in Alaska on April 15, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    What happened to “Spread the Wealth”?–a much better idea than “Share the Sacrifice”



    • John Barker on April 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm

      What happened to spread the wealth? Americans have consistently voted for transfer of wealth from the many to the few and they have received what they voted for. Americans still don’t get it, Wisconsinites elected the likes of Paul Ryan and Scott Walker and seek to recall Democrats who stood up for the little guy. There are miles to go before we sleep. I had one Medicare and Social Security recipent tell me that he was voting Republican because he didn’t get his COLA. When we have voters with his intelligence and voters whose intelligence lead them to think Paul Ryan and Scott Walker are on their side, we have a long long way to go.



      • A. Nonimus on April 16, 2011 at 5:07 pm

        I agree. Everyone who voted Democratic in ’08 expecting an immediate change but then turned around and voted Republican in ’10 because they didn’t see it obviously has entirely no idea how things work in DC and has never been a Beltway Insider.

        Been there, done that. Two years is lightning speed for anything to change on The Hill–except for the names of the interns.



  3. CAROLYN WEBB on April 18, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE OF THI S COUNTRY WHO WORKED HARD FOR 40= years should NEVER NEVER NEVER BE ASKED TO ALLOW FOR ONE SINGLE PENNY TO BE MALICIOUSLY CUT FROM THEIR MEDICARE MEDICAID OR SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

    TO CUT US LIKE THAT IS A MALICIOUS ROTTEN SPITEFUL THING TO DO

    CAVING IN TO THOSE DAMNED REPUBILCAN BASTARDS INSTEAD OF STANDING UP TO THEM IS COWARDLY—-COWARDLY SCUM BAGS TO CAVE IN TO REPUBLICAN DEMANDS TO MALICOUSLY SMASH UP AND CUT MEDICARE, MEDICAID AND SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS DO NOT DESERVE TO BE CALLED DEMOCRATS

    ANYONE WHO MAKES THE KIND OF A DEAL WITH REPUBLICAN CORPORATE GREEDY NEO-NAZI BASTARDS IS JUST AS HORRIBLE AS THEY ARE!!!!

    BETRAYING THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE OF THIS NATION
    STABBING US IN THE BACK

    THAT IS WHY THIS COUNTRY IS NO LONGER THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

    IT IS THE POISON STATES OF SARAH BASTARD NEO-NAZI PALIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY—BECAUSE OF THEIR FAILURE TO STAND UP TO RIGHT WING REPUBLICAN BULLIES (NEO NAZI RACIST BASTARDS—THAT IS WHAT REPUBLICANS ARE==I WILL NEVER NEVER NEVER STOP CALLING REPUBLICANS NAZI BASTARDS AND RACIST BASTARDS–WHO WISH TO MALICIOUSLY SMASH UP AND MALICIOUSLY DESTORY HARD EARNED BENEFITS FOR WORKING PEOPLE (SOCIAL SECURITY MEDICARE MEDICAID–THIS WE ALL NEED—A LIFELINE FOR THE DECENT DEMOCRATIC WORKING PEOPLE OF THIS COUNTRY)

    I AM ASHAMED OF BOTH THE PRESIDENT AND WHOLE DEMCORATIC PARTY FOR ALLOWING THE REPUBLICAN BASTARDS TO BULLY THEM!!!!!!!

    COWARDS—YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO BE CALLED DEMOCRATS

    AND THAT IS WHY I REFUSE TO GIVE YOU ANY MONEY–NO MONEY FOR COWARDS WHO ALLOW MEDICARE, MEDICAID AND SOCIAL SECURITY BENETITS TO BE TOUCHED________BY RE PIG LICAN NEO-NAZI SCUM!!!!! DEMCISLINCTTUSENEDICNMEDSLY PINDS
    EL



  4. David Sladky on April 20, 2011 at 5:18 am

    “I AM ASHAMED OF BOTH THE PRESIDENT AND WHOLE DEMCORATIC PARTY FOR ALLOWING THE REPUBLICAN BASTARDS TO BULLY THEM”
    They weren’t bullyed, they voted exactly how their campaign contributors wanted.

    Fact: In 2008 Obama got an all time record amount of campaign contributions from the little guy.
    Fact: In 2008, Obama got an all time record$$$ amount of corporate campaign contributions. Obama got of 5Xs as much $$$ from the corporate than the little guy, and he’s already reaching hand out to the corporates. They expect well over one billion. They sure AINT going to get it from the working class.

    “COWARDS—YOU DO NOT DESERVE TO BE CALLED DEMOCRATS”
    No, you don’t get it. This IS the DEMOCRATIC PARTY. It’s corporate. BOTH PARTIES ARE CORPORATE. From the corporate backing of the conventions to the massive campaign contributions to the lobby money.
    Health reform bill writen by corporate.
    Cap and Trade… writen by corporate.
    Education reform… corporate
    finance reform…. wait… there was no banking reform. Not with Goldman Sach running the treasury and on the white house staff.
    Eight years of Obama and the Democrat/Republicians will have come and gone, and America will be blinking and asking… What just happened?
    Duh



  5. Tc2ewra on April 22, 2011 at 10:33 pm

    Well, Mr Sladsky when you’re RIGHT. You’re RIGHT!