Obama's Hard Choices for Other People

Obama's Hard Choices for Other People

By Jeremy Lott - July 7, 2010

At the recent G20 summit, President Barack Obama announced that next year he would “start presenting some very difficult choices to the country,” and hoped that  “these folks who are hollering about deficits and debt” would “step-up.” In any event, he was “calling their bluff.” The world would soon find out how much of the deficit talk is “real” and how much is “just politics.”

Warnings of the Coming Austerity have been a staple of Obama's rhetoric for some time. In a debate with John McCain, Obama promised to go through the federal budget “line by line” and take a “scalpel” to spending. The president-elect met in December 2008 with the nation's governors and warned them that a nation facing “difficult times” would have to make “hard choices.”

Last year, as he was pushing a huge stimulus package, the president called for his Cabinet departments to collectively cut $100 million out of their appropriation requests to Congress. This year, even as he was pushing his expensive healthcare bill, Obama also called for a spending freeze of much discretionary spending.

Obama may speak of tough choices but he has been remarkably unwilling to make them, or to force his close allies to do so. Democrats structured the stimulus bill to help prop up public employee unions and Obama continues to plead for more stimulus. The president angrily lashed out at automobile debt holders, including state pension funds, that complained he was giving the United Auto Workers a sweetheart deal.

Obama could have shelved his expensive healthcare reform in these tough economic times, focused on real job creation, and tried again in a second term, on the back of a recovery. Instead, he used a variety of accounting tricks to make his healthcare reform look affordable and used the brute power of the presidency to push it through. He's currently scolding private insurance companies for hiking their premiums to account for greater risk – risk caused by his reforms.

Make no mistake, Obama is right when he says that he inherited an awful economy from President George W. Bush. However, his reaction to this at the time was not to make “difficult choices” to restore the nation to fiscal sanity. Instead, he intentionally made the situation almost immeasurably worse.

Now, he says that he wants members of the other party to make tough choices. What he means by that is that he wants them to vote for tax increases (coupled with cosmetic spending cuts) on top of those that are already kicking in with the expiry of the Bush tax cuts. The president, in other words, wants Republican to take the hit for the Democrats' catastrophic mismanagement of the already mismanaged economy.

That position might not be so contemptible but for what it translates to in the world outside of politics. The real hard choices will be made by parents who have to choose between socking some money away for retirement or helping their kids to pay for college; by managers who will have to figure out which workers to lay off; and by those unemployed folks with dwindling resources, who are struggling just to keep a roof over their heads.


Jeremy Lott is an editor for RealClearPolitics and author of The Warm Bucket Brigade: The Story of the American Vice Presidency.

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