The Corner

The Great Reformer

Judging from his press conference this morning, President Obama has determined he cannot run for reelection on his record of doubling our debt, and so he seems intent on attributing that record to “Washington” and running against it. He evidently hopes to use the debt-ceiling deal to recast himself as the guy who wants to take our deficits and debt seriously in a town where no one else does.


To that end, he made some pretty remarkable arguments for seeing his record as a record of failure. For instance, he pointed out that, despite the assurances of prominent Washington Democrats (one of whom is currently serving as president), Obamacare has completely failed to put Medicare on a sound footing. The president said:

I mean, the vast majority of Democrats on Capitol Hill would prefer not to have to do anything on entitlements; would prefer, frankly, not to have to do anything on some of these debt and deficit problems. And I’m sympathetic to their concerns, because they’re looking after folks who are already hurting and already vulnerable, and there are a lot of families out there and seniors who are dependent on some of these programs. And what I’ve tried to explain to them is, number one, if you look at the numbers, then Medicare in particular will run out of money and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up. I mean, it’s not an option for us to just sit by and do nothing. And if you’re a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great that we look after our seniors and we look after the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term.

This has to make us wonder why the president has been sitting around doing nothing about all of this for two years (that is, when he hasn’t been making it worse) and keeping others from doing anything about it. It should also make us wonder what it is that he proposes to do now, since so far the only concrete ideas he has laid out involve doubling down on the current system. We hear today that he has gone so far as to propose keeping older Americans in the new Obamacare exchanges for an additional two years before they enter an unreformed Medicare program sinking into bankruptcy. Neither that nor Obamacare would seem to speak to the kind of serious problem he rightly describes in that quote (a problem that, as he notes, cannot be fixed with tax increases, either). If he took a short break from pretending that no one else has offered solutions, he might find that someone else actually has. And if he looks around for an explanation for why those ideas have not received a serious hearing in Washington, what he would find would not strengthen his case for reelection.


The president seems to assume that by re-labeling his 2012 budget a bipartisan compromise he will make voters forget all of that. We’ll see.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.


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