Eleanor Clift (Daily Beast): In his carefully worded deficit speech, the president assured Democrats that his inner liberal is alive and well – slamming Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as “deeply pessimistic,” and vowing that the radical plan is “not going to happen as long as I’m president.”
Obama is a man who rations his emotions, but watching his speech today, and listening to the direction of his reforms, his inner liberal is alive and well.
He would direct less money to the top 1 percent and hold the line for people who have no clout on Capitol Hill. He can’t deliver everything liberals want, but this fight is as much about leadership as it is about the numbers. After a slow start, Obama is suited up and ready for the battle…
…After commending Republican Paul Ryan for coming forward with a plan, he deftly skewered it as “deeply pessimistic” that if enacted would lead to “a fundamentally different America,” one that will leave some 50 million Americans to fend for themselves…
The central issue of our day should be jobs, but Republican messaging and the arrival of the Tea Party has made it the country’s rising debt. Obama enters the debate at an optimal moment when Republicans have put down markers that many Americans find objectionable – from trying to defund Planned Parenthood to privatizing Medicare. A lot of Democrats would like Obama to just say no, but that’s not Obama’s inclination. There is a serious challenge in getting the budget under control. It’s not a crisis, but it is a partisan confrontation about the role of government, and Obama showed in his speech today that he is ready to seize the moment on behalf of his party’s ideals and constituents.
Michael Shear (NYT): In the hours before President Obama’s 44-minute speech on the nation’s mounting debt, liberal groups were whipped up into a frenzy, warning that Mr. Obama was poised to capitulate — once again, in their view — to Republican philosophy on taxes, the deficit and spending cuts.
On Tuesday, one group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, wrote its members that in the upcoming speech, “President Obama will do what no Republican president has been able to do: put Medicare and Medicaid on the table for potential cuts.”
The e-mail was an indication that there remains deep suspicion of Mr. Obama, at least among what a White House official once called the “professional left.” The group warned that such a speech would add to a politically dangerous softening of Democratic support for the president.
In fact, the address on Wednesday appears to have done exactly the opposite for Mr. Obama. The speech’s several starkly partisan moments and his willingness to draw clear lines in the sand over the issues of taxes and Medicare sparked a significant amount of praise among liberal members of the president’s party.
“Liberals have wanted a full-throated affirmation of why government is a good thing,” wrote Jonathan Bernstein, a political blogger. “Obama delivered, with perhaps his strongest case for a liberal vision of government that he’s given so far during his presidency.”
Jonathan Cohn (New Republic): President Obama’s speech today was about policy and politics. But it was also about principles, as Obama made clear early in his remarks…
…If there is an essence of the liberal vision for America, that passage captures it. It’s the idea that a modern, enlightened society promises economic security to all, notwithstanding illness, accident of birth, or age. The liberal vision is not an imperative to establish equality, as its detractors sometimes claim. But it is expectation that government will guarantee sustenance, peace of mind, and simple dignity – that the pursuit of these goals will bolster, rather than impede, freedom.
In the era of Roosevelt and Truman, Kennedy and Johnson, Democrats talked openly and proudly of this mission. But in the last few years, at least, Democrats have seemed less comfortable with such rhetoric, or at least comfortable with their loftier ideals than Republicans have been with theirs. This contrast has been vivid in fights over the economy, climate change, and health care, with Democrats making sensible, nuanced arguments about growth rates and Republicans making hyperbolic, simplistic claims about “socialism.”
Not on Wednesday. The president can seem like a compulsive mediator, desperately seeking opportunities to forge common understanding among adversaries. It’s an admirable quality and, frequently, an aggravating one. But in the budget speech Obama drew a clear contrast between his vision of America and that of the Republicans….
…Obama has laid out a credible plan for reducing deficits and, more important, he has described a vision of America he wants to defend. For today, at least, that seems like enough.
Full article here
Jonathan Chait (New Republic): Obama’s Speech: The Umpire Strikes Back….. The President expressed moral outrage in a way I’ve never heard him do before, and in a way I didn’t think he was capable of. After his spokesmen have feebly pawed at Ryan’s plan for lacking “balance,” it was jolting to hear Obama lambaste Ryan with language like this:
“I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs. I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves.”
This attack, by the way, is completely fair. Moreover, Obama made the crucial step of attacking Republicans for doing these things while cutting taxes for the rich. It’s impossible to overstate just how commanding a position Obama holds here with regard to public opinion. People overwhelmingly favor higher taxes on the rich. They even more overwhelmingly oppose cutting Medicare. The Republican plan to impose deep Medicare cuts in order to free up room to cut taxes for the rich is ridiculously, off-the-charts unpopular. If Republicans want to take this position, Obama has to make them pay dearly.
The most important line in Obama speech was his explanation that Republicans forced him to extend upper-bracket tax cuts, but “I refuse to renew them again”. That’s the line in the sand I’ve been looking for.
Boston Globe Editorial: President Obama … gave a cogent explanation for how mounting government debt will drive up interest rates for businesses and consumers and hinder the nation’s ability to protect its interests abroad. And he noted the public’s complicity in the problem, stating that “most Americans tend to dislike government spending in the abstract, but they like the stuff it buys”. When two-thirds of the federal budget goes to Social Security, health care, and national defense, there’s no use in pretending, as the Tea Party does, that cutting waste and abuse alone will get government spending under control.
Obama made a strong case that part of the fix should include raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans. While the incomes of 90 percent of Americans have declined in recent years, he noted, those of the wealthiest 1 percent have skyrocketed. And not, one might add, because the bottom 90 percent are lazier than the top 1 percent. The sacrifice should begin with those who’ve benefited disproportionately from changes in the economy.
On the spending side, Obama made it clear he opposed House Republican budget guru Paul Ryan’s plan to cut Medicare’s costs by turning it into a voucher program, and offered instead the much fuzzier idea of using a commission to reduce the cost of health care itself. While Ryan’s plan has the advantage of clarity, applying it without also overhauling a woefully inefficient health system necessarily means that many senior citizens would go without care they need.
…While most Americans are understandably concerned about reducing the federal deficit, the country’s economic future depends on its quality of education and infrastructure, as well. With diligence and good will, Congress can find the right balance. Obama deserves credit for challenging both parties to do so.