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Democrats, Republicans and indeed all American citizens are eagerly anticipating President Obama’s State of the Union Address Tuesday evening, hoping for a clearer picture of what he plans to accomplish before 2017 to cement the Obama legacy.
But as we look toward the next four years, we must not overlook the far-reaching consequences of the president’s actions early in his second term. For starters, his refusal to cement a long term fiscal deal with Republicans is a tell-tale sign that the political and economic environment he’s created does not bode well for the legacy he hopes to leave behind.
He has no more excuses on the deficit.
Obama campaigned for reelection promising to reduce the deficit almost exclusively through tax increases and phony cuts, like ending a war that was already over. Despite his tax increases, US debt is still growing as far and fast as the eye can see. The CBO’s midyear forecast shows this year’s deficit will still be $845 billion, over 5% of GDP.
Worse, the public debt is predicted to be 77% of GDP in 10 years, double the average of the last 40 years, and this despite exceedingly optimistic CBO growth targets never achieved during Obama’s time in office.
When the fed finally stops subsidizing interest rates, government debt payments and entitlements, which Obama also refuses to touch, will consume virtually the entire federal budget in 12 years. The president’s ability to blame this all on his predecessor will only diminish with time.
It's also clear that our commander in chief faces budget warfare for the next four years.
Because he snubbed a comprehensive budget solution, Obama will now have to deal with fiscal issues one at a time. He still faces a $1 trillion sequester, which his own retiring Defense Secretary says will devastate our national defense. Hopefully this worries the president who is after all still our commander in chief.
Next up is a budget resolution and appropriations bills for the coming year plus a need to raise the debt ceiling yet again. There will be no more shortcuts or negotiations with Speaker Boehner.
All of these issues will be handled in regular order. A balanced, long-term agreement could have taken many of these matters off the table, but the president will now be forced to spend valuable political capital and time for the balance of his term dealing with them individually. Hopefully he’ll still have time to fit in regular appearances on "The View."
The country will remain divided with our major problems unsolved.
It bears mentioning at least once more that Obama began his first term pledging to end legislative gridlock and change the way Washington works. He is destined to end his second term reinforcing both gridlock and partisan division.
His class warfare rhetoric and constant questioning of the motives of his opponents have made him one of the most divisive presidents ever. One example: Before he gave a long-anticipated speech on immigration, one of his second term priorities, the chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus asked him NOT to introduce his own bill, presumably because an Obama immigration bill would be dead on arrival and set back the prospects for bipartisan reform.
Apparently he has also applied that advice to fiscal matters since he has again missed the deadline and failed to submit a presidential budget for this year. -- That actually might be a good thing, however, given that his previous two budgets were rejected by nearly unanimous votes in the Senate.
Some of Obama’s many admirers in the media have compared him to Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln as an equally historic figure. The better comparison would be with their predecessors, James Buchanan and Herbert Hoover. President Buchanan stood by, watched the Union dissolve and did nothing. President Hoover was overwhelmed by the Great Depression.
Sadly the record will show that despite enormous promise and opportunity, President Obama stood by and watched as America mortgaged its fiscal future and its citizens grew even further apart. The solution to those problems will be the province of our next president.
A longtime Republican political activist, Frank Donatelli is executive vice president and director of federal public affairs for McGuireWoods Consulting LLC, and serves as counsel with McGuireWoods LLP. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain tapped Frank to serve as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee, where he coordinated the RNC’s fundraising and organizing activities directly with the McCain-Palin presidential campaign. Frank is the former chairman of GOPAC, an organization dedicated to educating and electing a new generation of Republican leaders. He previously served as Political Director for President Ronald Reagan.