Obama and the Supercommittee: Unleash the Demagogue

by Andrew Stiles

Earlier today, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Congress should “quit pointing fingers” with regard to the supercommittee’s failure to reach an agreement on a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction package. Translation: Republicans should stop blaming President Obama and his conspicuous detachment during the negotiations for said failure.

“Congress assigned itself a job, assigned 12 of its own members a task, a task that wasn’t really that difficult to acheive,” he said. “There wasn’t a seat at that table, as far as I’m aware, for a member of the administration.”

Hours later, President Obama took to his White House podium to deliver a partisan broadside, blaming Republicans for the supercommittee’s failure. “Despite broad agreement, too many Republicans in Congress have refused to listen to voices of reason and compromise coming from outside of Washington,” the president said in a brief statement; he left without taking any questions.

Additionally, Obama threatened to veto any effort do away with the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts designed to served as a backstop in the event that the supercommittee failed. “There will be no easy off-ramps on this one, we need to keep the pressure up on a compromise,” he said.

Democrats, he assured us, had been “willing to put politics aside and committee to reasonable adjustments that would have reduced the costs of Medicare.” It was Republicans who “simply will not budge from their position” on tax increases, which he claimed was “the main stumbling block” to bipartisan compromise. “They continue to insist on protecting $100 billion worth of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans at any cost,” he added. “Even if it means reducing the deficit with deep cuts to things like education and medical research. Even if it means deep cuts in Medicare.

A couple of thoughts. Here is Sen. John Kerry (D., Mass.), a member of the supercommittee, describing the “reasonable adjustments” that Democrats had been willing to consider:

The fact is there were cuts, and incidentally, when you say ‘cuts,’ it was slowing the rate of growth. It was not a cut to a benefit; it was a slowing of the rate at which it is growing.

So the president is mistaken. Democrats have put forward no proposal that would have “reduced the costs of Medicare,” but rather they were merely proposing a reduction in the rate at which these costs are increasing. And they are increasing dramatically:

Considering that Medicare is the driving force behind the country’s long-term debt crisis, what the president calls “reasonable adjustments” to the program just aren’t going to cut it. Standard and Poor’s acknowledged this much back in August when explaining its decision to downgrade the United States’ AAA credit rating following the debt-ceiling negotiations.

The deal to come out of those negotiations, S&P wrote at the time, “envisions only minor policy changes on Medicare and little change in other entitlements, the containment of which we and most other independent observers regard as key to long-term fiscal sustainability.” Days later, President Obama signaled his support for “modest adjustments” to entitlement programs. And yet Republicans are the ones who “simply will not budge.”

UPDATE: Regarding entitlements and the deficit, there’s also this handy chart to consider, courtesy of Jim Pethokoukis at AEI:

Frightening. Of course, in the president’s mind, anyone who proposes meaningful reform to these programs is only serious unless they are willing to agree to a massive tax increase.

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