President Obama is "Mr. Prudent," a grown-up heralding "deficit sanity" in a Washington gone mad with "delusional" Republican plans for draconian budget cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy.
That's the predictable leftist talking point-laden take that Time magazine's Joe Klein had after listening to President Obama's hectoring lecture yesterday at George Washington University (emphasis mine):
"This is one of the most important debates that we can have," President Obama said at the close of his much anticipated speech about the federal-budget deficit. He is absolutely right, although his speech didn't add much to the conversation in terms of specifics. Unlike Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's recent budget plan, Barack Obama's proposed no radical restructurings or curtailments of brontosaurus-size programs like Medicare or Medicaid. Unlike some of the other plans floating about, and there are scads of them, his didn't propose gimmicky new revenue-raising schemes like a national sales tax. Indeed, Obama didn't add much to the measures he had previously proposed — except for an increased desire to cut defense spending and a requirement that Congress enter into annual sudden-death negotiations if the deficit exceeds 2.8% of gross domestic product. But the President did add a crucial element to the debate: a sense of proportion and sanity.
The strongest section of the President's speech was a history lesson. We didn't have a significant deficit problem 10 years ago. We had a budget surplus. We did have the long-term question of how to pay for the baby boomers' old-age benefits, but that was, and is, a manageable problem. The "crisis" we face was visited upon us by the very people now screaming loudest about the budget deficit. Republicans, colleagues of Paul Ryan's, voted for the Bush tax cuts — which, as Obama noted, added $500 billion per year to the deficit — and they also voted for the (unpaid for) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a massive (unpaid for) Medicare prescription-drug benefit. On top of these obligations, we suffered a severe recession starting in 2008, which reduced tax revenue by an estimated $500 billion per year — and which required nearly a trillion dollars in government spending to avert a total economic collapse. And voilá, this year's $1.6 trillion budget deficit.
Obama then proceeded to eviscerate Ryan's extremely radical proposal, which would replace the current Medicare system with a voucher designed to actually diminish in value over time. The Ryan plan would significantly increase the cost of Medicare for the poor and middle class. (Obama's scare figure was $6,400 per person per year.) It would also force the frail elderly to make complicated market decisions in the abstruse health-insurance sector at a time of diminished acuity in their lives. It is, without question, a terrible plan — and it is made worse by Ryan's stubborn insistence on a continuation of low tax rates for the wealthy.
This enduring Republican low-tax fetishism has come to seem quite delusional: we've tried this scenario twice before, in the 1980s and 2000s, and both times the budget deficit exploded. There were those —most famously Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan — who saw it as a conservative ploy to reduce spending. But now, 30 years later, we have demonstrative evidence that the public has no wish to reduce spending on most government programs — and especially not on the big ones like Social Security (which is supported by 80% of the public) and Medicare. A recent Gallup poll showed that only 13% of Americans wanted a "complete overhaul" of Medicare; it also showed that a plurality of Republicans — 33% — wanted no cost controls on Medicare, with another 28% preferring only minor changes.