President Obama’s speech today was reminiscent of Stalin’s Order Number 227 to the Russian generals at the Battle of Stalingrad: “Not One Step Backward.”
Essentially, the president declared that he still wants to raise taxes, that he is opposed to any substantive changes to entitlements — oh, and he wants to raise taxes. He did suggest that if somehow he hasn’t been able to cut spending by 2014 (anyone taking bets?), he would appoint a commission to recommend spending cuts and (surprise) tax increases. A commission: Now there’s an original idea.
But the president’s speech does accomplish one thing. As he intended, it draws a clear distinction between his ideas and those of his opponents such as Paul Ryan. The president wants to spend (or as he repeatedly put it “invest”) more and raise taxes to pay for it. As I wrote this morning, he envisions a smaller debt but a much bigger government. Congressman Ryan, in contrast, envisions a smaller debt as part of a smaller government that leaves both more money and more responsibility in the hands of individuals.
Unlike the petty budget squabbling we’ve seen in recent weeks, that is a debate worth having.
— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.