We’ve all had a day or so to chew over President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget—a $3.7 trillion plan that with a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, “deep” cuts, tax hikes, new fees, and much else, would supposedly bring next year’s deficit down to $1.1 trillion from this year’s $1.7 trillion.
So what are the pundits spitting out?
As you would expect, the right is not particularly pleased (it’s still the fourth trillion dollar-plus budget in a row, after all). And while Michael Shear at the Times Caucus blog is reporting that the president has so far escaped a backlash from the “professional left,” I’m not so convinced that that political flank is all clapping-hands and bitten-tongues.
There have been cautious kudos in some left-leaning corners, but some very incautious thumpings in others. They just haven’t come quite as we may have expected. Rather than railing against the easy-target reductions in programs like the one which supplies heating assistance to low-income earners, or cuts in Pell Grants, the “professional left” is picking apart the budget to expose its broader inconsistencies, even as some among them acknowledge the political game being played with its release.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Sullivan, for instance—who doesn’t fit too neatly into that vague Gibbs-coined demographic—came out firing yesterday. In a blog post titled, “Obama To The Next Generation: Screw You, Suckers,” Sullivan writes that while the president is arguing that discretionary spending on infrastructure, education, broadband, and other investment-focused areas is the kind of spending that creates wealth, it is also the only kind of spending he proposes to cut. What happened to seriously taking entitlements into account? “He convened a deficit commission in order to throw it in the trash.”
In this budget, in his refusal to do anything concrete to tackle the looming entitlement debt, in his failure to address the generational injustice, in his blithe indifference to the increasing danger of default, he has betrayed those of us who took him to be a serious president prepared to put the good of the country before his short term political interests. Like his State of the Union, this budget is good short term politics but such a massive pile of fiscal bullshit it makes it perfectly clear that Obama is kicking this vital issue down the road.
To all those under 30 who worked so hard to get this man elected, know this: he just screwed you over.
At The Daily Beast, Kabuki Democracy author Eric Alterman writes that “Whether liberals wish to defend Obama or give up on him pretty much depends on whether they have already decided to give up or keep defending him. It’s the same argument as always, which is ‘yes it stinks, but have you seen what those other guys want?’” Sure, the president is proposing cuts to industry-favored oil and gas tax incentives that would tickle progressives, but they won’t actually happen—and if they do, and the money is put into research and development instead, the figures are inadequate anyway. What about those Pentagon reductions? Too small: “another bum deal for liberals.”
Comparing Obama’s politicking to President Clinton’s previous move to the center, Alterman lands on the same Obama-as-disappointment theme as Sullivan.
By agreeing to a whole host of Republican-inspired “fiscal austerity” measures, he hopes to be able to strengthen the programs he really cares about, particularly investment in infrastructure, broadband, and education for the middle and lower-middle classes. It’s a gamble that could work, particularly given the favorable reception his 2011 State of the Union speech enjoyed, which made exactly this case in the wake of the November 2010 “shellacking” the Democrats earned themselves.
What’s the alternative? A full-throated rejection of the conventional wisdom that puts deficit-reduction at the top of the agenda at a moment when the jobs crisis remains as recalcitrant as ever and the base is yearning for some of that old-time Rooseveltian religion.
But if you expected that, well, you haven’t been paying attention. That fellow played some mean ball back in 2007-2008, but retired from the court with a swish on Election Day.