At 1:30 Eastern Time today, President Obama will give a fiscal policy speech outlining his approach to reducing the federal deficit and debt. The endeavor represents a minefield of political risks for Barack Obama with little offsetting potential benefit.
If Obama comes out for raising taxes on those Americans who already pay the vast majority of federal income taxes (those making over $250,000 represent roughly 2.5 percent of the population but pay about 50 percent of all income taxes), he’ll get cheers from the far left — and from nobody else. Not only do most Americans believe that taxing the entrepreneurial and investor class would be damaging to all-important job growth, but it also raises the question of why he semi-proudly agreed to extending the Bush tax cuts for everybody if within just a few months he’s going to propose eliminating them for some. In other words, this proposal will look not just economically foolish but also add to his growing resumé of flip-flops.
If he comes in with a proposal that cuts only about $1 trillion from the debt over a decade, he will look utterly unserious about spending restraint. Keep in mind that the federal budget deficit for the month of February alone was a stunning $223 billion. As Chris Stirewalt notes, a speech which shows Obama to be resolutely unserious about cutting debt and deficits risks the willingness of wavering House Republicans to vote for the budget deal recently negotiated between Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Perhaps most importantly, and it’s a theme I’ll be coming back to repeatedly, is that voters given a choice between the real thing and a lite version will choose the real thing. So, during the Bush Administration, when Republicans were spending like drunk Democrats, voters could choose between the real big-spenders (the Democrats) and the wanna-be big-spenders (the Republicans). They voted for the real thing.
Beginning with New Jersey and Virginia in 2009, continuing through the 2010 House tsunami, voters are focused on spending cuts. And they’re going to want to elect politicians who are real, serious budget cutters, not half-hearted budget-cutters-lite clearly mouthing the words of fiscal responsibility with no conviction in their voices, eyes, or hearts.
Barack Obama will be the poster boy for Democrats’ faux fiscal responsibility. He is far more likely to see his approval ratings, already (in the long-running Gallup presidential approval data) below the approval for any of the three prior presidents at this number of days into a presidency, fall even further.
Barack Obama, despite his condescending, preachy rhetorical tone is — and should be portrayed at every opportunity as — an unserious person. Repeatedly voting “present” while in the Illinois Senate should have been a harbinger for what we got in him as president: Unserious about getting out of Iraq, unserious about closing Guantanamo, unserious abut cutting budgets, unserious about taking non-leftist input into major legislation, unserious about his view on raising the debt ceiling, unserious about leaving in place economically necessary tax rates, and the list goes on.
It’s hard to imagine President Obama, a committed Keynesian Progressive at the least, offering anything but a tepid attempt at budget reform. More likely, his proposal will be laughable to those in serious pursuit of putting this country on a rational and sustainable fiscal footing and Barack Obama will, other than in the fawning newsrooms of the major broadcast networks, find himself that much more cemented in a reputation as a naive, unserious, flip-flopping, big-spending man-child who seems to have more to hide than to offer.
All that said, I’d like nothing more than Obama to offer us a pleasant surprise with a serious budget-cutting proposal, including real entitlement reform. But even if he does so, we must not applaud until his actions, namely his signature on a relevant law, match any such words.