WSJ: Was he serious?

The Wall Street Journal editorial board couldn’t believe what it heard yesterday in Barack Obama’s deficit speech.  Well, believe is probably the wrong word, since Obama offered little of substance other than rhetorical bombs aimed at Paul Ryan, accusing him of trying to kill an entire generation of retirees while offering nothing specific to oppose it.  The WSJ dismantles Obama’s speech in their lead editorial as fundamentally demagogic and as unserious as a President can get:

Mr. Obama did not deign to propose an alternative to rival Mr. Ryan’s plan, even as he categorically rejected all its reform ideas, repeatedly vilifying them as essentially un-American. “Their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America,” he said, supposedly pitting “children with autism or Down’s syndrome” against “every millionaire and billionaire in our society.” The President was not attempting to join the debate Mr. Ryan has started, but to close it off just as it begins and banish House GOP ideas to political Siberia.

Mr. Obama then packaged his poison in the rhetoric of bipartisanship—which “starts,” he said, “by being honest about what’s causing our deficit.” The speech he chose to deliver was dishonest even by modern political standards.

The most dishonest component of the speech, according to the WSJ, was the theme of soaking the rich as the solution to all the problems of the federal budget.  The editors did what the White House apparently cannot — math — and explains why we are facing a spending problem rather than a revenue problem:

Mr. Obama rallied the left with a summons for major tax increases on “the rich.” Every U.S. fiscal trouble, he claimed, flows from the Bush tax cuts “for the wealthiest 2%,” conveniently passing over what he euphemistically called his own “series of emergency steps that saved millions of jobs.” Apparently he means the $814 billion stimulus that failed and a new multitrillion-dollar entitlement in ObamaCare that harmed job creation.

Under the Obama tax plan, the Bush rates would be repealed for the top brackets. Yet the “cost” of extending all the Bush rates in 2011 over 10 years was about $3.7 trillion. Some $3 trillion of that was for everything but the top brackets—and Mr. Obama says he wants to extend those rates forever. According to Internal Revenue Service data, the entire taxable income of everyone earning over $100,000 in 2008 was about $1.582 trillion. Even if all these Americans—most of whom are far from wealthy—were taxed at 100%, it wouldn’t cover Mr. Obama’s deficit for this year.

If some readers don’t trust the Wall Street Journal on this point, perhaps they’ll feel more comfortable with CBS, although they attack the plan from the ambiguous spending reductions Obama proposed:

Even if every provision of President Obama’s deficit reduction plan is enacted – and he concedes it won’t be – there still won’t be a balanced budget on the horizon. And the National Debt will continue to expand by trillions of dollars.

The Obama plan is designed to reduce deficit spending over the next 12 years by $4 trillion dollars. If every penny of that $4 trillion in deficits is eliminated, the government’s own budget projections show that trillions of dollars more in deficits would remain in place.

Speaking of which, the WSJ notes that Obama’s one specific plan to reduce spending comes in the form of even greater rationing power at the federal level:

His own plan is to double down on the program’s price controls and central planning. All Medicare decisions will be turned over to and routed through an unelected commission created by ObamaCare—which will supposedly ferret out “unnecessary spending.” Is that the same as “waste and abuse”?

Fifteen members will serve on the Independent Payment Advisory Board, all appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. If per capita costs grow by more than GDP plus 0.5%, this board would get more power, including an automatic budget sequester to enforce its rulings. So 15 sages sitting in a room with the power of the purse will evidently find ways to control Medicare spending that no one has ever thought of before and that supposedly won’t harm seniors’ care, even as the largest cohort of the baby boom generation retires and starts to collect benefits.

Contrast that to Obama’s insistence that giving seniors a choice in medical coverage was somehow un-American.  Which sounds more un-American to most people outside the Beltway: being allowed to make your own choices, or being told by a 15-member star chamber whether you can or cannot get treatment?

Obama’s speech was fundamentally unserious, a rant that should have been committed to the White House blog rather than in a national address.  If this is what passes for a major policy speech, this administration has completely run out of gas.