Thursday, February 17, 2011

Obama Budget Proposal

President Obama released his 2012 budget proposal. I have written before and continue to believe that the President is not a particularly strong negotiator. He assumes goodwill on the part of his opponent. He seems to think it’s important to show his own benevolence by being a bit too generous at his starting points. This makes sense if you see your role as a facilitator bringing two sides together. It makes absolutely no sense if you are actually one of the partisans in the negotiations.  If I’m trying to purchase a house with an asking price of $90,000, I’m not going to start my offer at $100,500 and go UP from there. That makes no sense. If you were using a real estate agent that recommended such a strategy and who seemed rather chummy with the sellers, you might start to wonder just who the agent was representing.
Unfortunately I think that President Obama is at or near such a point now. His proposed 2012 budget shows that either he is still hopelessly lost in the fantasy of bipartisanship and/or is just a really bad negotiator.
You can read the budget for yourself here and here
There are some items worth highlighting because I think they represent some real problems with the budget. Consider that this proposed budget is what the President thinks he can get through Congress AND what he wants. I’ll repeat that. This proposed budget is what the President wants.
So what should progressives make of these things:
1) $2.5 billion in cuts to the program which helps low-income people deal with energy costs. Per Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts this program as is only reaches 20% of eligible people.

2) $100 billion in cuts to the Pell Grant program. In addition for grad students or students in professional schools, interest on federal loans would start running while they are still in school.

3) The Defense Department is getting $78 Billion in cuts while the rest of discretionary domestic spending is being cut by $400 billion.

4) A 50% cut to Community Services Block grant funding.

5) Elimination of a pediatrician training program.

There’s more but I’m not going to list every element with which I disagree. I’m more interested in the overarching principle here. These cuts and others do not significantly alter the deficit. Why are we worrying about the deficit at a time when unemployment is still over 9%?  And finally, given that the largest contributors to the deficit are the Obama Tax Cuts and the ongoing wars why aren’t we having a real conversation about restoring taxes to where they were under Clinton? Why has the antiwar movement given Obama a pass on Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
Having accepted much of the Republican frame on the economy- which is that big government spending is the cause of the economic slowdown in the US- the President has little room to logically disagree with Republicans on how to build a solution. There is some disagreement about how much to cut and where but really that’s minor. Auto companies and banks get bailouts. Industry is sitting on $2 trillion in cash. But the “shared sacrifices” will only be shared between the working stiff and the poor man.  Something is wrong with this picture. I don’t think those who voted for Obama envisioned this.
This is usually where outraged Obama partisans leap in to talk about how Obama is really playing six dimensional chess and is making moves now that will bear fruit a year from now. They will accuse me of being just too stupid to see it. Well that may be.  But what I see now is a moderate Republican in Democratic clothing.  If that is really what Democratic voters want then God bless them.  If you have read Animal Farm you will remember that as the pigs took more and more power and betrayed the Revolution, some of the animals, most poignantly the stalwart (and stupid) Boxer, tied themselves in logical knots trying to justify the actions of the pigs. The simple answer –that the pigs were becoming just as exploitative as the humans they had replaced- could not be accepted or spoken aloud.
Similarly, although he was smeared as a swarthy sneaking socialist by blockheaded Beckites, and championed as a proud progressive by those left-wingers tired of the Clinton triangulation two-step tango, it’s clear that Obama is a corporate Democrat/moderate Republican. Actions matter, not words. The fact that the Republicans may be “worse” is not relevant to whether this is a good budget or not. It’s not.
What do you think? What is more important to you right now, jobs or the deficit? If a Republican President had proposed this budget would you think it was a good idea? What are some of your ideas about where to cut spending or increase revenue? How many times can Obama kick the Left in the teeth and get away with it?
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