If conservatives have gone on the warpath over Barack Obama’s budget proposal, the progressives appear to be equally irate as well. CNN Money reports that liberal groups are accusing Obama of “right-wing radicalism” for proposing a mere $110 billion average in annual cuts over a ten-year period. But is this reality based, or an attempt at helping Obama claim centrist credibility?
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal organization that boasts 700,000 members, took Obama to task before the budget was even officially released.
“Proposing even more tax breaks for Wall Street banks while slashing and burning necessary government programs is right-wing radicalism, and no Democratic president should be part of it,” the group said in a statement. …
“The budget proposal from President Obama is right from the Republican plan,” Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., a Democrat from Obama’s home state of Illinois said in a statement. “As the president, he should be the last line of defense for the most vulnerable Americans, instead of the first one to cut.”
Right-wing radicalism? Democrats hiked non-defense discretionary spending by 24% in three years; Obama promises to reduce it by around 15% or so. The howls over these retrenchments — they’re only cuts in Washington-speak — either act to demonstrate the lack of budgetary seriousness of the Left, or to provide Obama with a convenient counterpoint to strong criticism from the Right and the center over his extraordinarily weak budget plan.
One point may get lost in the overall budget debate, given its small contribution, but a proposed change in student loans are worth noting:
The budget proposed eliminating Pell grants for summer school, and making interest on federal loans for graduate students build up during school; currently, the interest tab doesn’t start running until after graduation.
Before last year, students could have shopped around for a better loan deal, including on the issue of deferred interest, had their lender proposed making a significant change that would land them deeper in debt. Obama’s success in creating a de facto nationalization of student loans means that most, if not all, students will have no choice but to accept the new terms.
If the Left hopes to help Obama look more centrist in his budget proposal, it doesn’t appear to be working. As John Sexton points out in a Green Room post, the Washington Post editorial board is certainly unimpressed, calling it a “punt” and dishonest as well:
THE PRESIDENT PUNTED. Having been given the chance, the cover and the push by the fiscal commission he created to take bold steps to raise revenue and curb entitlement spending, President Obama, in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal, chose instead to duck. To duck, and to mask some of the ducking with the sort of budgetary gimmicks he once derided…
The budget assumes that the full cost of the doc fix will be paid for, and therefore not add to the deficit, but fails to explain how. It includes a $328 billion magic asterisk for transportation funding, identified only as “bipartisan financing for Transportation Trust Fund.” Higher gasoline taxes? Don’t ask.
Dana Milbank rips Obama on his proposal, and not for his supposed “right-wing radicalism.” Obama managed to make “kicking the can” look good by comparison:
With the release of Obama’s budget proposal, Washington’s budgeting style can instead be described as tiptoeing past the can and hoping nobody notices.
Obama’s budget proposal is a remarkably weak and timid document. He proposes to cut only $1.1 trillion from federal deficits over the next decade – a pittance when you consider that the deficit this year alone is in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion. The president makes no serious attempt at cutting entitlement programs that threaten to drive the government into insolvency.
Contrast that with the proposal by the heads of Obama’s fiscal commission, who outlined a way to cut $4 trillion from deficits through 2020, rein in entitlement spending, overhaul the tax code and reduce the government’s debt load. As commission co-chair Erskine Bowles, former chief of staff in Bill Clinton’s White House, told The Post’s Lori Montgomery, Obama’s budget is “nowhere near where they will have to go to resolve our fiscal nightmare.”
The best explanation the White House has come up with, uttered privately, is that Obama didn’t want to step out too far with politically unpopular cuts before congressional Republicans propose their own. And it’s true that Republicans haven’t yet committed to including entitlement reforms in their own 2012 budget. But even that doesn’t justify Obama’s feeble budget document, which squanders the little momentum built up by the fiscal commission.
No one’s going to buy Obama as a “right-wing radical,” especially not for his oh-so-bold proposal to shave off a mere 2.96% of the current federal budget, which is 42% deficit spending. As strategery goes, this is rather transparent … and pathetic.
Update: Yesterday, Paul Ryan said Obama’s budget was actually worse than doing nothing about the deficit. Steve Eggleston takes a look at that claim and says … Ryan’s right.