Politics & Policy

Barack Obama, Home Alone

In his jobs bill and his budget speech, Obama demonstrates his reckless immaturity.


In his new book on the Obama economic team, Ron Suskind quotes former administration official Larry Summers complaining: “We’re home alone. There’s no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes.”

Put aside the misbegotten nostalgia for Bill Clinton, whose new status as an elder statesman wipes from memory his bouts of reckless immaturity. The Summers comment (subsequently denied, of course) stands as the best summation of the current occupant of the White House, who constantly congratulates himself on his high-minded leadership without exercising any.

#ad#Barack Obama has prided himself on his courage in offering painful entitlement reforms behind closed doors. Cynics thought Obama’s courage would desert him as soon as he had to reveal his proposals in the light of day. After Obama’s latest budget speech, the cynics must be doing cartwheels. On Social Security? Nothing. On Medicare? He insists he’ll veto any changes in benefits unless they are coupled with tax increases that won’t pass Congress. We’re left with technical adjustments to Medicare and Medicaid.

Of $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction, $1.1 trillion of it is from inevitable reduced expenditures in Afghanistan and Iraq. That makes fully a quarter of Obama’s plan a gimmick. He gets another $1.2 trillion from the cuts enacted in the debt-limit deal. So, fully half of his bold plan is accounted for by savings already baked in the cake.

The action in Obama’s proposal is the $1.5 trillion in tax increases. When you subtract the estimated $430 billion in (highly speculative) savings from reduced interest payments over time, he wants about a 3 to 1 ratio of tax increases to new spending cuts. Because he can offer no reliable assurance that government health-care costs won’t keep escalating despite his new bureaucratic controls, the only thing certain in the Obama plan is higher taxes.

Ever since Walter Mondale’s debacle in 1984, Democrats have been chary of embracing new taxes. President Obama now wants to emblazon them on his battle flag. There’s a certain logic to it. Taxes on the rich are the only deficit-reduction measure that his base can abide, and it polls well. Obama clearly thinks that wielding Warren Buffett’s support for higher taxes on “millionaires and billionaires,” as Obama invariably puts it, is a rhetorical clincher.

Except what Obama supports is raising taxes on people who are paupers compared with the Sage of Omaha. Half of Obama’s tax increase consists of allowing the Bush tax cuts on upper-income taxpayers to expire. “Upper-income” includes couples making $250,000 a year. If Buffett wants to put his money where his mouth is, he should give away all his wealth, move with his wife to the suburbs of New York, Washington, or San Francisco, adopt a few young kids, and live on an income of $250,000 a year. Once he has to worry about expenses again, he might not appreciate being lumped with “millionaires and billionaires.”

Even the Obama tax increases are dubious. The Bush tax cuts are scheduled to expire in full at the end of next year. If President Obama plans to preserve the bulk of them on the middle class while letting only the slice on the top expire, that’s really a $2.3 trillion tax cut compared with current law. The balance of Obama’s new revenue is from loophole closings he wants as part of an epic, but unspecified, tax reform.

President Obama’s plan isn’t serious and isn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s mood music. He merely wants something to say when asked how he’ll pay for his $447 billion jobs bill, which also has no chance of passing Congress. The most he can hope for now is shifting some of the blame for the economy. In his new guise as a populist crusader, the president thinks he can lift himself above an increasingly discredited Washington. In his transparent gamesmanship and self-evident impotence, he’s actually keeping himself mired at its level.

There’s no adult in the White House. We’re home alone.

— Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail at comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2011 by King Features Syndicate.

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

Most Popular


Two Truth-Tellers, Brave as Hell

Yesterday, the Human Rights Foundation hosted an event they called “PutinCon” -- a conference devoted to the Russian “president,” Vladimir Putin: his rise and his deeds, both at home and abroad. Participating were both Russians and well-wishing foreigners. It was, above all, a day of truth-telling -- a ... Read More
Economy & Business

The Swamp: Navarro Nucor Edition

The Wall Street Journal has a story today about the ties between President Trump's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, and the biggest steel company in the U.S. -- Nucor Corp. It is particularly interesting in light of the stiff steel tariffs successfully pushed by Navarro, which he championed ever since he joined the ... Read More


EMPIRICAL   As I can fathom neither endlessness nor the miracle work of deities, I hypothesize, assume, and guess.   The fact that I love you and you love me is all I can prove and proves me. — This poem appears in the April 2 print issue of National Review. Read More

Nancy MacLean Won’t Quit

One of the biggest intellectual jousting matches last year was between Duke history professor Nancy MacLean, who wrote a slimy, dishonest book about Nobel Prize–winning economist James Buchanan and the whole limited-government movement, and the many scholars who blasted holes in it. If it had been a boxing ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Rolling Back Dodd-Frank

The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill that would roll back parts of Dodd-Frank. The vote was 67–31, with 17 members of the Democratic caucus breaking party lines. If the legislation passes the House and is signed, it will be the largest change to the controversial financial-reform package since it became law in ... Read More

How Germany Vets Its Refugees

At the height of the influx of refugees into Germany in 2015–17, there was little doubt that mixed among the worthy cases were economic migrants taking advantage of the chaos to seek their fortunes in Europe. Perhaps out of instinctive pro-immigrant sentiment, Germany’s Left obscured the difference. Its ... Read More