Joe Biden’s dozing provided the most eloquent rebuttal to Barack Obama’s speech on Wednesday. It had the instantly forgettable quality of most speeches from Washington politicians about deficits.
President Obama spoke of “tough choices” even as he attacked others for proposing them. He said “everything is on the table” even as he warned that many federal government expenditures are too sacred to touch.
He likes the tack of mocking minor cuts, as if he has his eye on major ones. But it is clear that he is not interested in minor or major cuts. And it is not clear why a cut that is minor should be ruled out for that reason. But Obama argues along those lines: “Politicians suggest that we can somehow close our entire deficit by eliminating things like foreign aid, even though foreign aid makes up about 1 percent of our entire federal budget,” he says.
Others are expected to make “tough choices,” while he insists that cutting items like funding for Planned Parenthood are too tough to make. Most of his program revolves around avoiding tough choices for sentimental and ideological reasons. When he warns that deficit reduction has to be done “in a way that protects the recovery, protects the investments we need to grow, create jobs, and helps us win the future,” he is in effect saying that tough choices will not be made.
The tough choices Congressman Ryan is willing to make are dismissed out of hand.
Obama says they would lead to a “fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known certainly in my lifetime” and “throughout our history.” In other words, America is defined by liberal spending, and those who seek to restore the federal government to the limited size envisioned by the country’s founders are somehow undermining America. For Obama, “America” and a huge federal government are one and the same.
Similarly in the speech, “education” and federal spending on education are treated as synonymous. So any proposed reduction in federal education spending means Republicans don’t care about “math and science.” On the topic of Medicare, he accused Republicans of wanting to leave seniors “at the mercy of the insurance industry.” It is better apparently to leave them at the mercy of the federal government. Most of his rhetoric rests on the assumption that the bankrupt federal government is reliable, unlike the “whims” of the stock market, etc.
Biden may have woken up at his mention of higher taxes as patriotic. “I believe that most wealthy Americans would agree with me. They want to give back to their country, a country that’ s done so much for them. It’ s just Washington hasn’ t asked them to,” he said. The money of Americans belongs to the federal government automatically, according to Obama’s philosophy of taxation, and if Washington lets them keep more of it in a particular year the loss from that largesse is treated as new spending. But if it takes the money, that’s treated as deficit reduction.
Listening to the speech, one would think the “wealthy” aren’t paying much taxes at all, when the reality is they carry a wildly disproportionate amount of them. Given that he treats tax increases as spending cuts, his “debt failsafe” should be very popular with Democrats. “If, by 2014, our debt is not projected to fall as a share of the economy — if we haven’ t hit our targets, if Congress has failed to act — then my plan will require us to come together and make up the additional savings with more spending cuts and more spending reductions in the tax code. That should be an incentive for us to act boldly now, instead of kicking our problems further down the road.”
Yet kicking problems down the road is his plan, as deficit spending, or as he calls it “investing” in a country to “believe in,” remains central to it.