To: Editor, Vineyard Gazette
From: Mike Lion
Subject: Dueling Narratives
Vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard is, as this newspaper has often pointed out, like entering a special world. Nowhere is this clearer than on the editorial pages of the Gazette. For example, the letters to President Obama last week seem to come from another planet. The writers have presented a narrative that goes like this: wicked Republicans cynically obstruct valiant young president as he seeks to “transform America fundamentally” (by government spending at unprecedented rates). This seems to me a false narrative, relying on a selective choice of facts and accompanied by vitriolic rhetoric. (Not exactly the civility that the President has called for.) Let me suggest an alternative: valiant young Congressmen and Congresswomen, elected specifically to restrain reckless government spending, keep their promises to constituents in spite of enormous pressure from the establishment. Herewith are some facts to support that view:
1. In December 2010, with large Democratic majorities in a “lame-duck” Congress, Senate Majority Leader Reid postponed the decision to increase the national debt ceiling because (paraphrasing his words) he wanted the new GOP House to “share the heat.”
2. That same lame-duck Congress could have allowed the Bush tax (rate) cuts to expire, simply by doing nothing about them. Democrats had large majorities and Republicans could not obstruct anything they chose to do. Yet they chose to extend the cuts. President Obama signed the bill. Given his rhetoric before and since, his supporters should ask themselves why.
3. At the same time the President’s own debt commission (the Simpson-Bowles Commission) presented its plan to reduce the deficit. The key proposal was to increase revenues by lowering tax rates and closing loopholes. President Obama ignored the Commission’s report.
4. In January 2011, the new speaker, John Boehner, laid down two GOP conditions for a deal on the debt ceiling: (1) spending cuts to match the increase in the ceiling and (2) no increase in tax rates (which is not the same as no increase in revenues). This is just what they got in the end, so President Obama could have had that deal at any time.
5. In February, Obama presented his budget for 2012. It projected a record deficit and something like $10 trillion in new debt over 10 years. To say that it ignored the problem of reckless government spending would be a gross understatement. In April, it was rejected 97-0 by the Democratically-controlled Senate.
6. Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled House passed its own budget (the “Ryan budget”) which would have reformed Medicare and balanced the budget (slowly over 10 years). The Senate also defeated this proposal, but at least it got 40 votes.
7. To this date, the Senate has not passed a budget in over two years (although required by law). Rather than engage the GOP directly on the issues, Democrats launched their “Mediscare” attack.
8. Obama did invite GOP Congressmen to a budget meeting in April, where he proceeded to personally insult Rep. Ryan on national TV. Liberal critics hailed him as “tough.”
9. In July, facing the debt ceiling deadline, the Republican House passed “Cut, Cap, and Balance” , which also would have led to a balanced Federal budget. Instead of debating the proposal, offering amendments, and modifying it as necessary (in other words, instead of doing their jobs), Senate Democrats tabled the bill.
10. In late August, VP Biden negotiated a “grand bargain” on the debt ceiling with Speaker Boehner and the GOP (including $800 billion in increased revenues). President Obama reneged on the deal, insisting on the same tax rate hikes he could not get through a Democratic Congress in December 2010. This was when Boehner withdrew.
11. It is true that the GOP held to their principle of no tax rate hikes (the basis for their election in 2010). This caused critics to accuse them of “blackmail” and “holding hostages.” But Democrats had their own hostages. Reid and Pelosi insisted entitlements were “off the table,” which limited the scope of any deal, and President Obama insisted that any deal go past November of 2012. Worried about his re-election prospects, he threatened to veto any measure that did not satisfy this condition. The difference is that the Republicans, Congressional Democrats, and even VP Biden respected the conditions of the other side, whereas President Obama did not. He proceeded to wreck the deal and blame the Republicans.
12. As a result, Congressional leaders worked out a deal without much help from the President. He scrambled to get back in front of the parade by giving speeches, mostly in a hectoring, petulant tone. Liberal critics hailed him as “tough.”
13. Liberal critics are lambasting the debt ceiling deal as a “debacle.” To me this means the conservatives must have won. The GOP held fast to its principle of no tax rate hikes and, if the spending cuts prove to be less than hoped for (they always do), at least they have shifted the argument.
14. There was never any question of default on debts, although partial government shut-down was a possibility. It was Treasury Secretary Geithner who threatened default, JCS Chairman Mullins who warned troops overseas that they might not get paid, and President Obama himself who said he couldn’t guarantee Social Security recipients would get their checks. No GOP leader said any such thing.
1. In the end, the system worked as it was designed by our founders: The legislature reined in an over-reaching executive. It may be messy, but that’s democracy.
2. The brief history tells a story of repeated Republican attempts to address the problem in the face of Democratic intransigence, rather than the other way around. The latter had hoped to bluff the GOP into backing down, as they always had before.
3. If either of the GOP initiatives (the Ryan budget or Cut,Cap, and Balance) had become law, the S&P downgrade would likely not have occurred (according to S&P). I disagree with S&P’s judgment on the downgrade, but it is a well-deserved rebuke to President Obama. Poetic justice, I’d say….
4. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that Democrats even understand what the problem is (i.e., the debt spiral).
5. I think President Obama missed a big opportunity when he ignored the report of the Simpson-Bowles Commission. Had he put a deal together based on their report, the Republicans would have had to go along. In all probability, he would have ensured his re-election.
6. To negotiate a compromise one must at least recognize the point of view of the opposing side. And it’s hard to deal productively with political opponents when you continually accuse them of acting in bad faith (putting “party above country” is the latest, oft-repeated charge).
7. One thing the President’s supporters do not seem to get: He is “the Man.” Like a ship’s captain, he is responsible for everything. It is the leader’s job to bring the parties together and work out a deal. Reagan did so, Clinton did so, both Bushes did so. President Obama has not.
(Thank you, Mr. Lion!)