This past week President Obama gave a speech outlining his deficit reduction plan and proposed spending cuts while saving the important safety nets crucial to retired people as well as poor Americans. Of course, there was a plethora of opinions, commentary, and criticism from pundits and politicians alike that were either critical or praiseworthy depending on which side of the political spectrum the critics reside. The president’s plan was a rebuke of Representative Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity budget proposal as well as an ideological shift from the past ten years of Bush-era policies of tax breaks for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working class.
It is not surprising that Democrats loved the speech and Republicans hated it, but in theory, it should play well to moderates and independents that win or lose elections. Obama’s proposal countered Republican plans to fundamentally change Medicare and Medicaid as well as put a stop to his health-care law that will cover 30 – 40 million uninsured Americans. The president’s plan also makes cuts in defense spending and increases taxes on the wealthy. His proposal borrowed heavily from the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Bowles-Simpson), and in theory should have bipartisan support for its all-encompassing shared sacrifice. Republicans though, will not easily go along with tax increases for the wealthy or cuts to the defense budget regardless that Bowles-Simpson called for both in order to get the deficit under control.
President Obama’s proposals were met with consternation from some on the left because they fear the president started the discussion conceding more to the right than they would like and it is unfortunate. It appears that unless the president acquiesces to the whim and wishes of the far-left, he will never get approval or support. Even though the president didn’t propose a progressive budget plan, he did offer a more balanced approach to reducing the national debt while preserving the social safety nets millions of Americans depend on and have paid for throughout their working lives. More importantly, Obama articulated his vision of America in a positive light that exudes optimism and compassion as opposed to the Republican’s despair and pessimism evident in Ryan’s budget proposal.
Throughout his term, President Obama has consistently promoted America as altruistic even as Republicans have persisted in hateful legislation that promotes selfishness and greed. The president made it clear that it’s not acceptable to eliminate programs that protect children, retirees, and the poor so the wealthy can have their tax breaks. He did articulate that Medicare and Medicaid need to be streamlined to reduce costs, but disagreed with Representative Ryan’s solution of privatizing those programs with a voucher system that will inadequately cover seniors and children. The president also finally stated correctly that Social Security does not impact the budget but that there needs to be thoughtful adjustments to guarantee the program continues to be solvent in the future.
The president’s proposal is a good starting point for the nation to have a serious debate about spending, and responsible, compassionate cuts that do not destroy the safety nets so many Americans depend on. Especially when programs like Medicare and Social Security are funded by working Americans and protect the elderly as well as children and disabled Americans. Obama reminded Americans that as a people, we are better than the Republican portrayal of Americans as greedy, hateful oligarchs who would rather force our weakest people into poverty and destitution than assist them with their own money. It was an inspiring speech that portrayed optimism and hope as opposed to the GOP’s pessimism and despair.
Republicans are going to oppose Obama’s proposal because it effectively puts an end to Reagan’s conservative agenda that has proven time and again to be devastating to the economy. The fringe left immediately attacked the proposal as conceding their core values and being too right-leaning. President Obama is a left-leaning Centrist who has moved the country closer to the center than his critics on the left like to admit. It is worth reminding both sides that President Obama is president to all Americans and not any one group; he has to govern from the middle.
The president’s proposal is not perfect, but it is a start and it requires sacrifice from every demographic unlike Paul Ryan’s Path to Prosperity. For the first time in years the wealthy do not get special treatment at the expense of the poor and working class and it is about time they pay their share. Obama also proposed cuts to defense spending instead of the perpetual increases they have received for the past ten years. Most importantly, the president categorically stated he would not allow Republicans to destroy the safety nets that Ryan’s budget mandates so the wealthy can receive more tax cuts. Incredibly, Mr. Obama proposed simplifying the tax code to eliminate itemized deductions and special exemptions for the rich; exemptions that translate into lower taxes working-class Americans never qualify for.
All of the spending cuts and deficit reduction aside, the president’s speech recognized that Americans are decent people who are above cutting services to the poor to save money. In fact, Obama made the point that caring for our citizens is patriotic as well as altruistic. Republicans have demonized the poor, elderly, and working class to the point that their supporters actually believe it is patriotic to exude greed and selfishness. President Obama made a stark contrast that most Americans will respond favorably to because as he pointed out, Americans are virtuous people who intrinsically want to do the right thing. Republicans have sullied the American psyche with their constant demoralizing pessimism that if Americans don’t drive the least among us deeper into poverty, the nation is doomed. It is a narrative that is tiring and disheartening and the president aptly repudiated it.
Americans can hardly take any more bad news or pessimism about the state of our nation, and President Obama outlined a plan that gives hope to Americans desperately in need of relief. Republicans will not let up with their doom and gloom scenario and they began their hateful, divisive rhetoric shortly after Obama finished speaking. However, the cat is out of the bag and for a change, Americans can feel good about the future knowing there is light at the end of the tunnel instead of darkness and despair. The greatest theme of the president’s speech was that it is patriotic to care for our fellow Americans as we have for over 80 years. America’s shame is that Republicans have spent 80 years attempting to eliminate that which makes us great. In a sense, it is hard to blame Republicans because compassion and altruism are as revolting and foreign to them as increasing taxes on the rich and corporations.