President Barack Obama handed his political opponents a bludgeon the size of Thor’s hammer Saturday.
In a story played up by the Drudge Report but virtually ignored by the New York Times and Washington Post, C-SPAN’s Steve Scully pointed to the massive financial obligations taken on by his administration and to America’s generally lousy financial forecast. He asked Obama, “At what point do we run out of money?” “Well…” the U.S. president began with his practiced nod to the unhurried, unflappable style of Ronald Reagan.
Then he said it: “We are out of money now.” He tried that classic Obama workaround, essentially conceding the opposition’s point then sidestepping it to advance his own vision. “We are operating in deep deficits, not caused by any decisions we’ve made on health care so far,” he said. But just wait.
Obama pegged “health care inflation” as America’s long-term fiscal problem. One unsavory option for how to deal with this problem, he said, “is to just do nothing. We say, well, it’s too expensive for us to make some short term investments in health care. We can’t afford it. We’ve got this big deficit. Let’s just keep the health care system that we’ve got now.”
He tried to make the case for why that would be the wrong option but, by that point, nobody who wasn’t already committed to his vision of government managed, mandated, rationed health care was paying much attention. To the average not terribly ideological voter, the gravity of what Obama admitted will displace airy fairy notions about the fiercely urgent need for reform now.
“We are out of money,” Obama said, apparently of his own free will. He also said that the government has had to spend “a lot of money” to “salvage our financial system,” and to “deal with the auto companies.” He admitted that that the U.S. is in the midst of a “huge recession,” which “drains tax revenue” from federal and state coffers and puts “more pressure on governments” to provide vital services with fewer resources.
The president might write these off, collectively, as a “short-term problem,” but it’s pretty hard to admit all these things and then convince Americans they should double down. Obama is requesting over $600 billion in his budget for what the White House bills as simply a “down payment” on his grander scheme of universal coverage.
Not to beat a dead horse, but that’s over $600 billion that the U.S. government doesn’t have on hand to spend. It can either borrow the money and shift the bill, with interest, onto future, heavily leveraged generations, or it can raise taxes to pay the bill. Practically, there will be a mix of both. It’s telling that Obama and the congressional leadership both want more funds for IRS enforcement so that the tax collectors can really do their job.
All kinds of people are going to be made unhappy by the government push for more funds, and not just the usual suspects. Over this Memorial Day weekend, Oregon’s Democratic Senator Ron Wyden faced negative union bought ads over his proposal to tax health care benefits — their own member’s hard negotiated benefits, in other words — to help finance the federal plan.
When Republicans decide to come out swinging against these plans — and they will; they don’t have many other options — they will have the most clear, concise, bullet proofed slogan of all time at their disposal. “We are out of money,” they can say, so Obama wants to take yours.