Earlier this week, I did not jump on the bandwagon following President Obama’s nationally televised speech. As speeches go, it further reinforced the growing stature gap between Obama and the Republican Party’s insipid indecency as illustrated by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. Nonetheless, my immediate reaction Tuesday evening was ,
“Obama's words and presence illustrated why I personally admire him but the substance of his administration's soon to be released budget are more important than this single speech. I still get a clinical thrill from observing how Obama's speeches impact others but I want to read the fine print of his budget proposal.”Well, we’re still awaiting the fine print to be released in the spring. In the meantime, the administration has released an encouraging blueprint. Their 142 page outline, combined with this morning’s weekly address (access the video above), suggest the conciliatory Obama from the stimulus debate has been benched in favor of a pugnacious liberal.
John Edwards could have drafted today’s weekly address and Obama’s proposed budget offers a transformational paradigm shift. From cap and trade with respect to carbon emissions to setting aside $634 billion for healthcare reform, there is much to like about this budget from the liberal perspective. Even better, Obama threw down the gauntlet with today’s weekly address when he said,
"I realize that passing this budget won’t be easy. Because it represents real and dramatic change, it also represents a threat to the status quo in Washington. I know that the insurance industry won’t like the idea that they’ll have to bid competitively to continue offering Medicare coverage, but that’s how we’ll help preserve and protect Medicare and lower health care costs for American families. I know that banks and big student lenders won’t like the idea that we’re ending their huge taxpayer subsidies, but that’s how we’ll save taxpayers nearly $50 billion and make college more affordable. I know that oil and gas companies won’t like us ending nearly $30 billion in tax breaks, but that’s how we’ll help fund a renewable energy economy that will create new jobs and new industries. I know these steps won’t sit well with the special interests and lobbyists who are invested in the old way of doing business, and I know they’re gearing up for a fight as we speak. My message to them is this:
’So am I.’”Thankfully, the president learned after the stimulus debate that he’s better served by establishing a high threshold at the onset of negotiations. Perhaps, the president also realizes that the public’s perception of him as “reasonable” following the stimulus debate allows his administration to take a firmer stand this time. That’s good because the stimulus debate is child’s play compared to the high stakes bargaining ahead.
Obviously, the budget Obama proposed will not be what ultimately passes through two houses of congress. Liberals don’t have a filibuster proof majority in the senate, Norm Coleman continues to tie up Al Franken in the courts and special interest money is flowing to conservative blue dog Democrats.
If so-called moderate senators such as Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman put up a fight, than Obama should be prepared to stare them down. I suspect it won’t come to that however with those senators. Of greater concern may be senators such as influential Iowa Republican Charles Grassley, who will protest cuts to agricultural subsidies – especially if he convinces any Democrats to join him.
Hence, this process will require strong nerves and Obama not blinking. In 1995, President Bill Clinton prevailed in his showdown with Newt Gingrich because his reputation as a compromiser allowed him to appear tough without looking partisan. Similarly, Obama’s greatest political asset is that his fist in the velvet glove approach allows him to stand firm while appearing flexible.
It should also be noted, that Obama’s budget is far more honest than any we’ve seen from the executive branch in recent years because it doesn’t pretend that we’re not fighting two wars or ignore the possibilities of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Nonetheless, like all budgets, it has its own deceptions. For example, the economic growth projected by the administration seems unlikely, at least in the near term. To some extent, ignoring the possibility of low growth is their way of promoting needed confidence. Even if we stipulate to the political necessity of rosy projections, the administration better have a backup plan.
Another concern is just what the hell did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton promise the Chinese during her Asian trip? Our ability to afford a progressive agenda is contingent upon the Chinese continuing to finance our consumer debt. Reading between the lines, when Hillary Clinton said last week she didn’t want to let “issues” such as human rights interfere with the economic crisis or climate change, it was obvious that the administration promised the Butchers of Beijing something in return.
The administration and corporate press will likely parrot the line that our plans for deficit reduction has reassured foreign investors we can pay back our loans. If you believe that, I have a bridge here in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you. Even so, given the crisis he inherited, Obama had little choice but to assuage the Chinese and other foreign investors to finance our debt. Hopefully, the price for their forbearance won’t be too high.
So, a little more than a month into his presidency, Obama has moved further to the left domestically with his proposed budget. Ironically and perhaps tragically, President Obama has moved to the right with foreign policy as 17,000 troops are being deployed in Afghanistan without an exit strategy and our “pullout” from Iraq will still mean leaving behind 50,000 troops. That worries me because the last time a Democratic president tried to have guns and butter at the same time resulted in President Richard Nixon.