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Philip Klein: The only times Obama has agreed to cut spending are in times of crisis

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Philip Klein,Politics Digest

In his Monday news conference, Obama made two points repeatedly. One, he said he wasn’t going to negotiate with Republicans over the debt ceiling. And two, he insisted he was perfectly willing to discuss ways to tackle the nation’s deficits separately. “We’ve got to stop lurching from crisis to crisis to crisis, when there’s this clear path ahead of us that simply requires some discipline, some responsibility and some compromise,” he said. As the Examiner’s editorial points out today, however, the only rational conclusion to be reached from Obama’s first term in office is that crises are the only times Obama will actually agree to address the deficit. The most compelling evidence for this is the fact that during the news conference, when Obama wanted to demonstrate he’s been willing to cut spending in the past, he cited spending cuts that were achieved as part of debt ceiling talks.

From the editorial:

On Monday, Obama touted the fact that he had “made progress” on his goal of reducing deficits by $4 trillion over a decade. “Over the past two years, I’ve signed into law about $1.4 trillion in spending cuts,” he said, later adding that “there will be more deficit reduction when Congress decides what to do about the $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts that have been pushed off until next month.”

He couldn’t cite any spending cuts from the first two years of his presidency, when the Democratic Congress routinely approved his debt ceiling increases and there were no government shutdown battles. To be sure, there are a lot of liberals who would argue that the government should be running huge deficits during an economic downturn and still others who even dismiss warnings about our nation’s mounting long-term debt as alarmist.

But from the outset of his first term, Obama insisted to those who did care about the debt that he was serious about tackling the problem. Days after signing the stimulus package into law, he convened a “fiscal responsibility summit” in which he declared:

So if we confront this crisis without also confronting the deficits that helped cause it, we risk sinking into another crisis down the road. As our interest payments rise, our obligations come due, confidence in our economy erodes and our children and our grandchildren are unable to pursue their dreams because their saddled with our debts.

That’s why today, I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited by half by the end of my first term in office. Now, this will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we’ve long neglected. But I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay, and that means taken responsibility right now, in this administration, for getting our spending under control.

Obama would spend the next year of his presidency passing his national health care law, which uses a combination of tax increases and Medicare cuts – not to reduce the deficit – but almost exclusively to finance $1.7 trillion in spending on a new entitlement.

During 2010, Obama deflected questions about his deficit reduction plans by citing the fiscal commission he appointed. For example, in July 2010, he said at a press availability: “We are on the path to cutting our deficits in half.  We have put forward a fiscal commission that is then going to examine how do we deal with these broader structural deficits. So this isn’t just an empty promise. We’ve already started taking steps to deal with it, and we’re going to be very aggressive in how we deal with it.”

Yet when the commission delivered its verdict at the end of the year, Obama rejected its recommendations. And when newly-elected House Republicans rallied around Paul Ryan’s budget in April 2011, Obama and his fellow Democrats aggressively attacked the proposal without offering an alternative. Then, the debt limit crisis ensued over the summer, and for the first time, Obama actually agreed to some spending cuts. That September, Obama released a flimsy deficit reduction proposal, which relied on $900 billion worth of spending cuts that were part of the deal to resolve the debt ceiling crisis.

For a number of reasons, I don’t think it’s wise for Republicans to use the debt limit as leverage. But it’s undeniable that Obama’s first term sent a clear message. For Obama to agree to cut spending, there needs to be a crisis. If Republicans don’t use crises as leverage, Obama will make lofty statements about deficit reduction without actually doing anything about it.

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