President Obama


Obama’s Very Weak Hand

When all else fails, try bipartisanship

Over on National Review Online, I have a new piece about the president’s agenda, the national debt, and the political moment. An excerpt:

After Scott Brown’s stunning victory in the Massachusetts special election last month, it is now clear that the coalition President Obama was counting on to pass his health-care bill and follow-on legislation is in absolute tatters. The strain of the effort to ram health care through despite intense public opposition has taken a very heavy toll. Independent voters remain outraged at the arrogance of it all, and have swung decisively toward GOP candidates in recent contests. Congressional Democrats now know they are in peril, and are behaving accordingly. They are in no mood to take any more tough votes on behalf of a president’s agenda that their constituents have plainly rejected. Indeed, in the current environment, it’s hard to see how the House could pass the same health-care bill that it passed just last November.

This puts the president in a terrible bind, especially given the difficult budgetary choices now confronting him. His 2011 budget submission to Congress shows deficits rising to $1 trillion by the end of the decade and continuing thereafter. From 1789 through 2008, the U.S. government borrowed $5.8 trillion. If the Obama budget were adopted in full, government borrowing would exceed $18 trillion by the end of the decade. Debt accumulation at such a pace would almost certainly precipitate an economic crisis.

In their heart of hearts, most Democrats think the solution to the nation’s budget problem is a massive tax increase; if they had succeeded on health care, some might have been willing to use that momentum to propose one. But in the current environment, with so much distaste for out-of-control government, the White House and congressional Democrats know full well that it would be complete political suicide for them to push a tax increase at this stage.

Which brings us back to the president’s renewed interest in having Republicans share in, as he put it, “the burdens of governing.”

Unfortunately for him, he is now holding a very weak hand as he heads into discussions with his adversaries. His health-care program is so unpopular that Democrats themselves are walking away from it. He promised voters he wouldn’t raise taxes on the middle class, and his Democratic allies want to expand government, not contain or shrink it. So, unless he changes course, he is stuck with presiding over an unprecedented borrowing binge that threatens to cripple his administration.

The whole article can be found here.

posted by James C. Capretta | 2:46 pm
Tags: budget, deficit, bipartisanship, President Obama
File As: Health Care

Entitlements, the Budget, and the State of the Union

In a new post over on NRO's Corner tonight, I comment on the health care and budgetary aspects of President Obama's State of the Union address:

On health care, he offered nothing new. He is sticking with the plan the public has quite plainly rejected. According to a recent CNN poll, a full 70 percent of Americans want Congress either to start over entirely or to drop the subject altogether. That’s because they recognize that the plan the president has been pushing so aggressively for the better part of a year would be a disaster, for the quality of American medicine and for the nation’s budget outlook. The president claims the bill would cut the deficit, but that’s based on completely implausible assumptions. The bill would stand up another runaway entitlement program, paid for with offsets that will never hold up over time and cost-control ideas that are weak and largely meaningless.

Yesterday, I had another post on the Corner, remarking on the administration's proposed budget "freeze." An excerpt:

In reality, the Obama freeze is a purposeful diversion and sideshow. The nation is rushing headlong toward a fiscal crisis because of runaway government spending, and the Obama administration has no serious plan to head it off. Between 1789 and 2008, the federal government ran up $5.8 trillion in debt. In just the first three years of the Obama administration, CBO expects the debt to increase by nearly another $4 trillion. In 2010, CBO projects total federal spending will exceed $3.5 trillion, more than $500 billion over what was spent in 2008. Further, in 2012 and beyond, with realistic assumptions regarding extension of the Bush tax cuts, relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax, funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and restoration of planned cuts in Medicare physician fees, the government is headed toward $1 trillion budget deficits every year for as far as the eye can see. 

This massive run-up in debt is set to occur just as the baby boomers head into their retirement years, pushing up costs in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Between 2010 and 2030, the population that is age 65 and older will rise from about 41 million to 71 million. CBO expects spending on the big three entitlement programs to rise from 9.8 percent of GDP in 2010 to 14.4 percent in 2030 — an increase of about 4.6 percent of GDP in 20 years. That’s like adding another Social Security program to the federal budget with no plan to pay for it.

So far, the president’s primary response to this looming budget and entitlement crisis is to propose to pile another runaway health-care entitlement program on top of the unaffordable ones already on the books. According to CBO, the federal cost of the health-care commitments in both the House- and Senate-passed health-care bills would reach $200 billion in 2019 and would increase about 8 percent every year thereafter. Meanwhile, the offsets to pay for this new spending are completely unrealistic, and the so-called “bend the curve” provisions are far too weak to make a difference.

posted by James C. Capretta | 11:35 pm
Tags: budget, entitlements, President Obama
File As: Health Care

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