Evidently it has been the strategy of President Obama to keep out of the budget fight in order to appear like he’s above the fray, stepping in only to settle down the unruly children. At the same time, the President refused to present any realistic plan to address the Federal debt, wanting the Republicans to make the first move. The only problem is that what was calculated to appear as maturity instead came across as indifference. It didn’t look like leadership.
I’m not a big believer in electoral mandates. The new members of the House, primarily Republicans, felt like they came in with a mandate to shrink the Federal government. One problem is that the key issues for voters are not always the key issues for those they elect. Voting is often about what effects us on a personal level. People may talk about the debt and the deficit (and mix the two up) but they care most about money in their pockets.
The fact is that candidates run on a number of issues, any one of which may be the key issue for an individual constituent. Deciding what the election means always says more about the candidate than about his or her supporters.
The other problem with the electoral mandate with regards to government spending is that, in general, the American voter is relatively ignorant about what the government spends money on. Polls regularly expose this ignorance with regards to the amount of money spent on foreign aid. Responders often believe that 25% of the federal budget goes to aid foreign countries. Even those who guess 10% are way off as the real number is approximately 1%. Eliminating that from the budget would have little to no effect on the real problems. Most Americans don’t know what budget reform will really mean and I wonder how rabid their support would be if they did.
That said, budget reform needs to take place at some point and they answer will have to include a combination of reduced spending and increased revenue (taxes). The agreement on the 2011 budget did not include any tax increases, which shows that none of the politicians are actually serious about the debt. The Republicans will trot out the old reliable myth that cutting government spending will lead to job creation. Ignoring that some of the cuts will directly lead to the loss of government jobs, the current record corporate profits aren’t exactly stimulating job growth. Corporate American is taking advantage of the results of the global economic crisis; people are afraid to lose their jobs and are willing to do what they have to to keep their jobs. Corporations have found that they can do the same or more with less and make higher profits. What incentive do they have to add staff?
It’s safe to say that the Dems played this round all wrong, from not settling the budget business last year to the 2012 budget proposed by the President earlier this year to not moving fast enough to identify their own cuts until brow-beaten to do so by the motivated Republicans. Now the Dems will proclaim victory by agreeing to a worse deal than the one that was initially proposed by the Republicans and was rejected. No doubt the Dems moved for the only reason that politicians ever move; in order to get re-elected. This cynical strategy assumes that the voting public really cares about government spending. I have my doubts. Most people I know care about earning enough money to pay their bills. The debt and the deficit are difficult concepts to understand and they don’t have the luxury to devote more time to understanding it. They outsource their understanding to the disingenuous politician class assuming that the politicians care about the same things that they do.
Tonight, President Obama will finally lay out a plan which is expected to be based on the recommendations of the President’s bipartisan commission, the same recommendations which he ignored when they were presented at the end of last year. Welcome to the fight, Mr. President. In the meantime, the budget debate is being fought entirely on the Republicans’ turf. In the end, the budget agreement will be somewhere between the centrist recommendations of the commission and the conservative recommendations of the Republicans, which will again be a victory for the Republicans. And what will the President get for all his dithering? We’ll know in November 2012 when the President either gets rewarded or punished for the state of the economy at that time. If it were me, I’d rather have succeeded or failed on my own terms.