President Barack Obama used Ronald Reagan as a weapon tonight against the House GOP and their tactic of holding America captive.
Obama laid the blame on Republicans for rejecting a balanced approach to deficit reduction:
The only reason this balanced approach isn’t on its way to becoming law right now is because a significant number of Republicans in Congress are insisting on a cuts-only approach – an approach that doesn’t ask the wealthiest Americans or biggest corporations to contribute anything at all. And because nothing is asked of those at the top of the income scales, such an approach would close the deficit only with more severe cuts to programs we all care about – cuts that place a greater burden on working families.
So the debate right now isn’t about whether we need to make tough choices. Democrats and Republicans agree on the amount of deficit reduction we need. The debate is about how it should be done. Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask corporate jet owners and oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get. How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries? How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?
That’s not right. It’s not fair. We all want a government that lives within its means, but there are still things we need to pay for as a country – things like new roads and bridges; weather satellites and food inspection; services to veterans and medical research.
Keep in mind that under a balanced approach, the 98% of Americans who make under $250,000 would see no tax increases at all. None. In fact, I want to extend the payroll tax cut for working families. What we’re talking about under a balanced approach is asking Americans whose incomes have gone up the most over the last decade – millionaires and billionaires – to share in the sacrifice everyone else has to make. And I think these patriotic Americans are willing to pitch in.
He then clubbed the House Republicans with the words of Ronald Reagan:
In fact, over the last few decades, they’ve pitched in every time we passed a bipartisan deal to reduce the deficit. The first time a deal passed, a predecessor of mine made the case for a balanced approach by saying this:
“Would you rather reduce deficits and interest rates by raising revenue from those who are not now paying their fair share, or would you rather accept larger budget deficits, higher interest rates, and higher unemployment? And I think I know your answer.”
Those words were spoken by Ronald Reagan. But today, many Republicans in the House refuse to consider this kind of balanced approach – an approach that was pursued not only by President Reagan, but by the first President Bush, President Clinton, myself, and many Democrats and Republicans in the United States Senate. So we are left with a stalemate.
Obama lit up House Republicans for hold the economy captive:
Defaulting on our obligations is a reckless and irresponsible outcome to this debate. And Republican leaders say that they agree we must avoid default. But the new approach that Speaker Boehner unveiled today, which would temporarily extend the debt ceiling in exchange for spending cuts, would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now. In other words, it doesn’t solve the problem.
First of all, a six-month extension of the debt ceiling might not be enough to avoid a credit downgrade and the higher interest rates that all Americans would have to pay as a result. We know what we have to do to reduce our deficits; there’s no point in putting the economy at risk by kicking the can further down the road.
But there’s an even greater danger to this approach. Based on what we’ve seen these past few weeks, we know what to expect six months from now. The House will once again refuse to prevent default unless the rest of us accept their cuts-only approach. Again, they will refuse to ask the wealthiest Americans to give up their tax cuts or deductions. Again, they will demand harsh cuts to programs like Medicare. And once again, the economy will be held captive unless they get their way.
The President used the bully pulpit to mobilize the American people to pressure House Republicans:
The American people may have voted for divided government, but they didn’t vote for a dysfunctional government. So I’m asking you all to make your voice heard. If you want a balanced approach to reducing the deficit, let your Member of Congress know. If you believe we can solve this problem through compromise, send that message.
So much for those recent stories about Obama caving to the GOP and giving them everything that they want, tonight’s speech didn’t sound like a president that was willing to cave to anything. Obama knows that he has the upper hand, and he is fully willing to call the Republicans out on their tactic of holding the American people hostage in order to get their own way.
Using Ronald Reagan against House Republicans was a brilliant political move. By invoking a popular former Republican president, Obama reinforced the impression in the minds of the American people that he is interested in bi-partisanship and compromise. Reagan has been co-opted by the Democrats and turned into a champion of the debt ceiling. Reagan is now a Democratic symbol who represents doing what’s right for America.
Obama was able to trace the recent history of debt ceiling increasing and lay the exploding deficit at the feet of many of the same Republicans who spent wildly on two wars, tax breaks for the wealthy, and a Medicare prescription drug plan without paying for it.
Obama is holding his ground, and he knows that he has popular opinion on his side. Republicans keep trying to spin, but they are getting nowhere. Instead they have provided President Obama with the opportunity to take his case to the American people.
President Obama is showing a toughness that the House GOP economic hostage takers never expected.
This president is standing tall and sending the message that the American people will not be bullied into selling out the many in order to strengthen the economic advantage of the few.
Barack Obama is standing tall, and right now, he needs you to stand with him.