Tactic Ground Zero: Hypocrisy

    This has been an eventful week in the annals of hypocrisy, a storied section of the human library if there ever was one.  We had the passing of the U.S. budgetary resolution to prevent a governmental shutdown with a alleged “crushing” 38 billion in savings painfully carved out of the federal budget of 4 trillion. That draconian 0.95% cut from overall spending achieved with much gnashing of teeth and wailing by politicians regarding pain on closer inspection by the Congressional Budget Office accounting, turns out not to be a cut at all, but a 300 million dollar gain- hey, who knew?  Then there is the “this is not a war” war in Libya, in which “our involvement will be days, not weeks”, now heading for its third month, with the Libyan dictator still in place, and no identifiable resolution on the horizon.  But wait, there’s more – on center court, the king of the tactic, the big Kahuna, the Masters Class in Hypocrisy- was provided this week by no less than the President himself in what was billed as a national retort and “serious response” to Representative Paul Ryan’s budget plan to gain control over spiralling debt and achieve stability in our nation’s impending entitlement crisis.  This effort at hypocrisy was so transparent, so state of the art, that its deserves a full Ramparts recognition, so we may be in awe of a master at his craft.
     On April 13th, 2011, President Obama delivered his vision for America’s priorities and the need for budgetary discipline, in response to Representative Paul Ryan’s comprehensive budget plan recently passed by the House reforming entitlement programs and putting America on a path to fiscal solvency. For several years now, the President has engaging in budgetary discipline rhetoric, demanding that “grown-ups” step forward to suggest serious plans for deficit reduction, while himself engaging in ballooning deficit spending at historic levels. Two groups of “grown ups” stepped forward. His own deficit commission he appointed provided a template for maintenance of governmental spending at a GDP of 21%, and Rep. Ryan’s plan securing a cap at 20% while addressing the vexing entitlement problem which threatens to consume the budget. He has ignored them both, and in a particularly pointed Presidential smack-down, lured Ryan and his deficit commisioners to sit a few seats away from Obama as he delivered his apparently more “grown-up” response. The drizzle of hypocrisy was sustained and arrogant.

     First, the President framed the nation’s budgetary history as in line with the current crisis, suggesting that prior administrations had recognized and tackled a similar fiscal problems presented by entitlement spending through budgetary discipline and tax hikes.

Now, at certain times -– particularly during war or recession -– our nation has had to borrow money to pay for some of our priorities.  And as most families understand, a little credit card debt isn’t going to hurt if it’s temporary.

But as far back as the 1980s, America started amassing debt at more alarming levels, and our leaders began to realize that a larger challenge was on the horizon.  They knew that eventually, the Baby Boom generation would retire, which meant a much bigger portion of our citizens would be relying on programs like Medicare, Social Security, and possibly Medicaid.  Like parents with young children who know they have to start saving for the college years, America had to start borrowing less and saving more to prepare for the retirement of an entire generation. 

To meet this challenge, our leaders came together three times during the 1990s to reduce our nation’s deficit — three times.  They forged historic agreements that required tough decisions made by the first President Bush, then made by President Clinton, by Democratic Congresses and by a Republican Congress.  All three agreements asked for shared responsibility and shared sacrifice.  But they largely protected the middle class; they largely protected our commitment to seniors; they protected our key investments in our future. 

As a result of these bipartisan efforts, America’s finances were in great shape by the year 2000.  We went from deficit to surplus.  America was actually on track to becoming completely debt free, and we were prepared for the retirement of the Baby Boomers.

 It would be difficult to find a President who has been looser with the facts of history.   The coming baby boomer entitlement wave has been recognized for decades but nothing has been done about it.  Taxes passed by congresses and presidents adjusted current budgetary debts, not future deficit drivers.  Representative Dan Rostenkowski of Illinois, head of the Ways and Means Comittee suggested in 1988 a form of catastrophic health insurance and prescription coverage to achieve control of Medicare’s burgeoning expenses and was nearly lynched for it, and the bill was repealed.  Social Security, a progressively unfunded mandate, was recommended to be put in a “lock box” by Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election and was summarily laughed out of discussion.  The momentary debt reduction achieved by the Clinton Administration came to a crashing halt with the .Com bubble burst and the catastrophe of 9/11, and no mechanism was in place to maintain the spending discipline required in the face of such threats to the economy.   In contradistinction, commission after commission acknowledged the devastating effect of  70 million baby boomers entering into an average of 20 years of entitlement exposure in both securities and health care. and no mechanism under present structures to remotely pay for them.  Its a farce to imply America’s finances “were in great shape.”

But after Democrats and Republicans committed to fiscal discipline during the 1990s, we lost our way in the decade that followed.  We increased spending dramatically for two wars and an expensive prescription drug program -– but we didn’t pay for any of this new spending.  Instead, we made the problem worse with trillions of dollars in unpaid-for tax cuts -– tax cuts that went to every millionaire and billionaire in the country; tax cuts that will force us to borrow an average of $500 billion every year over the next decade.

     Oh, of course; now its clear.  Once again, its all George W. Bush’s fault.  You have to understand; according to this president’s logic, the money available is all the government’s to spend.  If it wasn’t for those treacherous citizens receiving some of their own money back, the government would have more available to spend in its progressively uncontrolled fashion.  Unfortunately the facts again don’t fight.  Under the Bush tax cuts, governmental receipts went up every year until the fiscal collapse of 2008 and subsequent recession, and the budgetary explosion in spending versus tax receipts occurred with President Obama’s first budget.  In fact, he signed into law an extension of those cuts for an additional two years when every economist warned him to do other wise could sink the recession into a depression.  Once again, the Obama reality:

So, thankfully, having discovered that the entire debt crisis arose only out of the 8 Bush budgets, the President, the only “grown up” in the present argument, is going to right the ship with mature budgetary cuts that take into account the obvious arthrimetic of the entitlement wave, right? Not quite. After over 4 trillion dollars of deficit spending in two and one half years of Obama economics, what is needed first is…more deficit spending:

The America I know is generous and compassionate.  It’s a land of opportunity and optimism.  Yes, we take responsibility for ourselves, but we also take responsibility for each other; for the country we want and the future that we share.  We’re a nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness.  We sent a generation to college on the GI Bill and we saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare.  We have led the world in scientific research and technological breakthroughs that have transformed millions of lives.  That’s who we are.  This is the America that I know.  We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit our investment in our people and our country. 

To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices.  But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in.  And as long as I’m President, we won’t.

So today, I’m proposing a more balanced approach to achieve $4 trillion in deficit reduction over 12 years.  It’s an approach that borrows from the recommendations of the bipartisan Fiscal Commission that I appointed last year, and it builds on the roughly $1 trillion in deficit reduction I already proposed in my 2012 budget.  It’s an approach that puts every kind of spending on the table — but one that protects the middle class, our promise to seniors, and our investments in the future. 

The first step in our approach is to keep annual domestic spending low by building on the savings that both parties agreed to last week.  That step alone will save us about $750 billion over 12 years.  We will make the tough cuts necessary to achieve these savings, including in programs that I care deeply about, but I will not sacrifice the core investments that we need to grow and create jobs.  We will invest in medical research.  We will invest in clean energy technology.  We will invest in new roads and airports and broadband access.  We will invest in education.  We will invest in job training.  We will do what we need to do to compete, and we will win the future.

     The money for this new investment will come from the usual sources.  First, we will “eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse” from government.  Okay, that’s never been tried before, and based on the waste, fraud, and abuse inherent in the Obama stimulus package, should be a pretty good pot of money.  Then there is that defense department, which will need to reduce its last two years of budgetary reductions again, while find funds for the expansion of nation building in Afghanistan, and  the third conflict Obama recently started in Libya, which thankfully we will soon be out of.  Then, the President will tackle health care expenditures, not in the cruel way of the Republicans like Ryan with their ridiculous notions of reforming the entitlements- no the President will reap the savings by – appointing another commission:

We will change the way we pay for health care -– not by the procedure or the number of days spent in a hospital, but with new incentives for doctors and hospitals to prevent injuries and improve results.  And we will slow the growth of Medicare costs by strengthening an independent commission of doctors, nurses, medical experts and consumers who will look at all the evidence and recommend the best ways to reduce unnecessary spending while protecting access to the services that seniors need.  

Now, we believe the reforms we’ve proposed to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid will enable us to keep these commitments to our citizens while saving us $500 billion by 2023, and an additional $1 trillion in the decade after that.  But if we’re wrong, and Medicare costs rise faster than we expect, then this approach will give the independent commission the authority to make additional savings by further improving Medicare. 

     After that independent commission has achieved the trillions of dollars of efficiency savings that the previous hundreds of independent commissions have been unable to achieve, the real muscle in in deficit reduction will be obtained from the culprit in this whole deficit mess- the American taxpayer who refuses to pay enough for all this governmental largess:

The fourth step in our approach is to reduce spending in the tax code, so-called tax expenditures.  In December, I agreed to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans because it was the only way I could prevent a tax hike on middle-class Americans.  But we cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society.  We can’t afford it.  And I refuse to renew them again. 

     Did you catch that?  The President will reduce spending in the tax code, so called tax expendituresHe now sees spending as not when the government spends, but when the government receives insufficient funds to cover its expenditures from those paying in! And more good news- if the government would fail to reduce expenditures (which of course never happens- see above) a debt failsafe law would be enacted that would lock in automatic tax increases (I’m sorry, tax expenditures) to cover the shortfall.  The government would now be immune to ever looking again at the “spend” side of the equation, and having to stand up for a vote on increasing taxes.  Wow. That says it all – a new democratic king of anti-democratic hypocrisy has been crowned.

     The president ended his remarks with a call for bi-partisanship, after spending the previous thirty minutes savaging every bi-partisan instinct in deficit reduction.  Representative Ryan, forced to sit through the whole speech and listen as the personal invite of the President to a step by step insult of all his hard work and rationalizations, showed in a strong response to the farcical performance why Ryan should be our next President:

     To our current President, who has convinced himself that his distortions, deceits, historical fudges, and lack of responsible leadership on the critical economic issue of our time and the emerging threat to our society of freedom should hold court, I think a classic John McEnroe puts our opinion of our president’s comic book math and lazy solutions in perspective – Mr. President,  YOU CAN NOT BE SERIOUS!

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