Published July 18, 2011
President Obama is suddenly a fan of press conferences. Last week, after months of not appearing solo before the media, he faced reporters twice, most recently this past Friday.
That’s in addition to four occasions at which the president spoke on, as the White House web site puts it, “The Status of Efforts to Find a Balanced Approach to Deficit Reduction.” (Sounding a bit Maoist, for sure.)
Why this sudden urge to converse? Simply said, it’s working for him.
In a masterful performance last Monday, President Obama convinced a recession-weary public that he alone was the voice of Beltway Reason. Channeling Walter Cronkite, he soberly explained that he and his fellow Democrats were willing to take considerable heat, and put everything on the table, but that the showboating GOP was blocking the nation’s progress. He was resolute, he was measured, he was right. You could almost see his hair graying as he shouldered the future of Western Civilization.
There was nothing new to report on Friday, no real news. But his prior jamborees with the press had done something miraculous for Mr. Obama – they had convinced the public that he was doing his job. Not only had he engaged in the debt ceiling talks, but he was taking the middle road.
Never mind that we have no idea whether that road is a paved four-lane highway or a dirt path; there were no particulars on what exactly the Dems are proffering. King Tut’s tomb was more exposed than the Harry Reid team of late.
Indeed, there hasn’t been a budget proposal to emerge from the Democratic side of the aisle in months. Never mind. The message was clear: but for a few loons in the House, we would not be facing a meltdown of monstrous proportions.
More wondrous for Mr. Obama, this showdown between the House and the White House has distracted the American public from the ghastly, struggling economy. Our 9.2% unemployment rate is being displaced in our nation’s consciousness by the cat fight in Washington.
The tit-for-tat between our nation’s leaders is riveting. Mr. Obama erred when he said the public was not interested in reality-TV antics; if Eric Cantor would only take a swing at Tim Geithner the president could put his campaign on hold – he’d be reelected in a landslide. That billion dollars he’s so hopeful of raising could instead go to deflating our deficit.
The president usurped the GOP’s lead in this battle by adopting the voice of reason, and portraying Republicans as unwilling to compromise. It is time to put politics aside, he has said. He’s right.
The president, too, should ditch the rhetoric, and get the job done. If he is so very concerned about the ill effects from not raising the debt ceiling -- if this stalemate is driving us towards true financial catastrophe – why not agree to raise the debt ceiling now, in company with spending cuts that even this spendthrift White House knows are necessary?
There is no reason that the president has to extract some amount of increased revenues – that is simply his immovable position. He could assuage his Democrat colleagues by coupling modest spending cuts to an agreement that Congress will take up serious tax reform immediately. By publicly concluding such a deal, the president would emerge the victor – we would not default on our debt – and Americans would demand fair play from the GOP.
Tax reform has become, of course, code for increased revenues. In April, the president said “It’s important that we look at our tax code and find a way to work together to not only simplify and make the tax system fairer, but also that we use it as a tool to help us achieve our deficit targets.” We’re talking decreased tax expenditures, one of the more God-awful expressions to come out of this White House, along with “kinetic military action.”
Double negative-talk notwithstanding, reconsidering and possibly closing some of our tax loopholes makes sense. In any event, most have not been considered in decades, and may well have worn out their usefulness.
This was one of the excellent recommendations of the Bowles-Simpson commission. They advised phasing out, for instance, the mortgage interest deduction. Though an abrupt revision of this long-standing tax arrangement could further shake the shattered real estate industry, a phased-in reduction is worth considering.
It has become clear that as a nation we have funneled an unhealthy amount of our investment capital into real estate, to the detriment of infrastructure, for instance.
The financial crisis built on a mountain of ill-advised investment in property; this bubble was encouraged by the tax code (as well as excessively low interest rates, wrong-headed public policy, and careless bankers and investors.) Americans understand the attraction of owning a home; the government does not need to encourage such investment.
In any case, it would be uplifting to see Congress and the president move the country forward. Raise the debt ceiling, overhaul our overly complex and outdated tax code. Most important: get to work; there’s much to be done.