Obama "staying in background" on budget debate

Carrie Budoff Brown reminds us at Politico that Barack Obama promised his deficit commission that he would be “standing with them” on their recommendations for cutting the nation’s massive and escalating debt.  Congress has tried looking for him there, and pretty much everywhere else, and still have yet to see him standing anywhere on budgetary matters.  Instead, the President has decided to focus on his “winning the future” goals:


While Obama has said he’s committed to deficit reduction, he has also has made clear it is secondary, at least for now, to his “winning the future” agenda. And that reflects a strategy driven by what his senior aides believe voters care about most — jobs, not deficits.

Obama’s reluctance to join the debate in a sustained way has provoked rising frustration among lawmakers from both parties, who are speaking more forcefully about what they view as his absenteeism on one of the most pressing issues before them.

But until House Republicans join their Senate GOP counterparts in appearing open to raising revenues, the administration is reluctant to weigh in too heavily, believing that a grand bargain that would inflict bipartisan pain will be difficult to attain. So, Obama has kept at arm’s length a group of six Republican and Democratic senators working on a deficit-reduction framework, not yet convinced that their efforts will be the vehicle by which a deal is struck.

“The president’s approach to the larger set of budget issues raised by his own fiscal commission is very, very cautious up to now,” said William Galston, a policy adviser to former President Bill Clinton and a senior fellow at Brookings. “He has not embraced it, not by a long shot. It is clear that whatever he wants to accomplish, he doesn’t want to accomplish it alone and he doesn’t want to step out first.”


Ah, leadership.  These days, it means not taking the lead on vital national issues, not attempting to build a consensus for one’s goals, but to sit around and let others do the heavy lifting.  Well, that’s not entirely fair, as Obama isn’t just sitting around, either.  Jake Tapper tweets:

POTUS will tape his NCAA picks today to be aired on ESPN tomorrow

Jim Geraghty also notes that Obama will be doing what he does best — granting interviews:

“Obama will tape interviews from the Map Room with KOAT Albuquerque, KDKA Pittsburgh and WVEC Hampton Roads on education reform and the need to fix No Child Left Behind.”

Japan faces an almost unparalleled crisis, Libya is in civil war, and we’re having another budget showdown after running up a $222.5 billion deficit in the 28 days of February. And after last week’s bullying summit, Obama is spending this week talking education reform.

Education reform would be important if Obama was serious about actual reform, rather than just finding ways to repackage the same system that has delivered 40 years of flatlining mediocrity.  Instead, he and Arne Duncan are looking at improving schools by, er, lowering the existing standards in No Child Left Behind so fewer of them get rated as “failing.”


But even if Obama wanted to actually reform education, that would still take a back seat to reforming a federal budget that borrows 40 cents on every dollar it spends.  Thanks to the crisis in Japan, this is even more urgent than ever, since Japan was the second-largest international holder of American debt (19.9%, behind China at 26.1%) before the quake.  They will need to use their capital for rescue and recovery, and are more likely to dump some US Treasuries to fund those efforts than continuing to buy more.   That means we will have to offer higher interest rates to sell debt, which means bigger deficits in the future than predicted.

We need to address the budget crisis now.  The NCAA bracket picks should be secondary.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on September 22, 2023