"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Obama Finally “Dragged Into” Debt Discussion After Failing To Lead For Months‏

April 12th, 2011 by mopns · No Comments

Tomorrow, President Obama is going to give a speech on his plans to deal with the debt. The speech comes a week after House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan released his plan to tackle long-term debt and deficits, weeks after Obama released his own budget that ignored the problem, and months after the president’s own fiscal commission issued a report the White House essentially set aside. It’s little wonder, then, that there’s a great deal of criticism for President Obama for arriving late to the issue and failing to lead on a solution to this nation’s debt crisis.

Indeed, The Washington Post writes today, “Letting others take the lead on complex problems has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency. On health care, last year’s tax deal and the recent battle over 2011 spending cuts, Obama has repeatedly waited as others set the parameters of the debate, swooping in late to cut a deal.”

The president’s failure of leadership has been acute on the problems of debt and spending in particular. As The New York Times wrote yesterday, “Mr. Obama’s budget waiting game . . . has helped to fuel widespread criticism by Republicans, pundits and some Democrats that he has failed to lead.” And Politico notes today, “Last week’s release of Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s [budget plan] and a looming vote to raise the debt limit has forced the White House to unveil its own plan in a speech planned for George Washington University Wednesday afternoon.”

Politico gives a short history of how the president arrived at this point. “He set up a blue-ribbon deficit commission last year — even promised its report wouldn’t gather dust on the shelves — then promptly distanced himself from it. His State of the Union speech mentioned debt reduction, but focused on stimulating job growth and funneling new funding to education, infrastructure development and green energy projects. And he adopted a political strategy that seemed to be based on Republicans making the first move on presenting a plan for the deficit.”

At the time of his State of the Union speech, The New York Times wrote that President Obama “did not lay out any specific plans for addressing the long-term costs of Social Security and Medicare, the biggest fiscal challenges ahead.” And, the NYT pointed out, “[H]e did not adopt any of the recommendations of the bipartisan fiscal commission he appointed to figure out ways to bring the deficit under control.”

When the president released his budget in February, the press was swift to criticize it for doing little to address the debt crisis. The NYT wrote, “The budget confirms that Mr. Obama is not taking the lead in embracing the kind of far-reaching deficit-reduction plan recommended in December by a bipartisan majority of his fiscal commission.” The Wall Street Journal editors explained his budget, saying, “It leaves every hard decision to the new House Republican majority. And it ignores almost entirely the recommendations of Mr. Obama’s own deficit commission.” And The Washington Post editorialized, “The president punted. Having been given the chance, the cover and the push by the fiscal commission he created to take bold steps to raise revenue and curb entitlement spending, President Obama, in his Fiscal 2012 budget proposal, chose instead to duck.”

But once again, President Obama seems to be offering little more than a speech. According to The Washington Post,  “Obama will not blaze a fresh path when he delivers a much-anticipated speech Wednesday afternoon at George Washington University.” And Politico reports, “It’s looking less likely that President Barack Obama’s speech Wednesday will embrace a lot of specific ideas on how to cut Medicare and Medicaid — which would get him in trouble with Democrats and progressive groups anyway. Instead, his health care allies are expecting him to talk in more general themes, focusing on cutting wasteful health care spending rather than cutting Medicare and Medicaid benefits.” Politico also reports, “Bob Bixby, executive director of the Concord Coalition and a member of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s debt reduction task force, said, ‘I don’t expect anything with a whole lot of detail,’ calling the Wednesday speech, ‘another step in the dance … an attempt by the president to get out in front of the debate because the only marker down there is Ryan.’”

Still, As Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor this morning, “Apparently the President is finally ready to acknowledge problems that the rest of the country has been waiting for him to address. It’s unfortunate that he had to be dragged into this discussion. But those on the left and the right who have been clamoring for presidential leadership on these issues have to welcome President Obama’s long-awaited decision to engage on them. And we all look forward to hearing what the President has to say. But it’s my hope that in doing so, he offers more than the outline his political advisor suggested.”

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