President Obama delivered an uncharacteristically fiery speech the other day, at an Associated Press luncheon. You’ll find the video below, but, first, here’s a clip from an editorial about the speech that ran in yesterday’s New York Times.
President Obama’s fruitless three-year search for compromise with the Republicans ended in a thunderclap of a speech on Tuesday, as he denounced the party and its presidential candidates for cruelty and extremism. He accused his opponents of imposing on the country a “radical vision” that “is antithetical to our entire history as a land of opportunity.”
Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential front-runner, has embraced a House budget plan that is little more than “thinly veiled social Darwinism,” the president said, a “Trojan horse” disguised as deficit reduction that would hurt middle- and lower-income Americans.
“By gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last — education and training, research and development, our infrastructure — it is a prescription for decline,” he said, speaking to a group of Associated Press editors and reporters in Washington.
Mr. Obama has, in recent months, urged Republicans to put aside their destructive agenda. But, in this speech, he finally conceded that the party has demonstrated no interest in the values of compromise and realism. Even Ronald Reagan, who raised taxes in multiple budget deals, “could not get through a Republican primary today,” Mr. Obama said. While Democrats have repeatedly shown a willingness to cut entitlements and have agreed to trillions in domestic spending cuts, he said, Republicans won’t agree to any tax increases and, in fact, want to shower the rich with even more tax cuts.
The speech was the first time that Mr. Obama linked Mr. Romney, by name, to his party’s dishonest budget and discredited trickle-down policies. As Mr. Obama pointed out, Mr. Romney described as “marvelous” a budget that would drastically cut student financial aid, medical research, Head Start classrooms and environmental protections. Mr. Obama further ridiculed the budget’s deficit-cutting goal as “laughable” because it refuses to acknowledge the need for new revenues.
The speech was immediately attacked by the House speaker, John Boehner, for failing to deal with the debt crisis, but Mr. Obama pointed out how hollow that charge has become. “That argument might have a shred of credibility were it not for their proposal to also spend $4.6 trillion over the next decade on lower tax rates,” he said. The math is, in fact, quite simple: cutting both taxes and the deficit can mean only more sacrifice from the middle class and the poor, ending the promise of Medicare and Medicaid. Over the long term, the deficit can be brought down through a combination of cuts and new revenues; doing so immediately, as Mr. Romney and his party want to do, would reverse the fragile recovery….
Here’s the video:
You can find the entire transcript online, but here’s my favorite part.
…So I believe deeply that the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history. My mother and the grandparents who raised me instilled the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility that remain the cornerstone of the American idea. But I also share the belief of our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln — a belief that, through government, we should do together what we cannot do as well for ourselves.
That belief is the reason this country has been able to build a strong military to keep us safe, and public schools to educate our children. That belief is why we’ve been able to lay down railroads and highways to facilitate travel and commerce. That belief is why we’ve been able to support the work of scientists and researchers whose discoveries have saved lives, and unleashed repeated technological revolutions, and led to countless new jobs and entire industries.
That belief is also why we’ve sought to ensure that every citizen can count on some basic measure of security. We do this because we recognize that no matter how responsibly we live our lives, any one of us, at any moment, might face hard times, might face bad luck, might face a crippling illness or a layoff. And so we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee health care and a source of income after a lifetime of hard work. We provide unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss and facilitates the labor mobility that makes our economy so dynamic. We provide for Medicaid, which makes sure that millions of seniors in nursing homes and children with disabilities are getting the care that they need.
For generations, nearly all of these investments — from transportation to education to retirement programs — have been supported by people in both parties. As much as we might associate the G.I. Bill with Franklin Roosevelt, or Medicare with Lyndon Johnson, it was a Republican, Lincoln, who launched the Transcontinental Railroad, the National Academy of Sciences, land grant colleges. It was Eisenhower who launched the Interstate Highway System and new investment in scientific research. It was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency, Ronald Reagan who worked with Democrats to save Social Security. It was George W. Bush who added prescription drug coverage to Medicare.
What leaders in both parties have traditionally understood is that these investments aren’t part of some scheme to redistribute wealth from one group to another. They are expressions of the fact that we are one nation. These investments benefit us all. They contribute to genuine, durable economic growth.
Show me a business leader who wouldn’t profit if more Americans could afford to get the skills and education that today’s jobs require. Ask any company where they’d rather locate and hire workers –- a country with crumbling roads and bridges, or one that’s committed to high-speed Internet and high-speed railroads and high-tech research and development?
It doesn’t make us weaker when we guarantee basic security for the elderly or the sick or those who are actively looking for work. What makes us weaker is when fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the goods and services our businesses sell, or when entrepreneurs don’t have the financial security to take a chance and start a new business. What drags down our entire economy is when there’s an ever-widening chasm between the ultra-rich and everybody else.
In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class. That’s how a generation who went to college on the G.I. Bill, including my grandfather, helped build the most prosperous economy the world has ever known. That’s why a CEO like Henry Ford made it his mission to pay his workers enough so they could buy the cars that they made. That’s why research has shown that countries with less inequality tend to have stronger and steadier economic growth over the long run.
And yet, for much of the last century, we have been having the same argument with folks who keep peddling some version of trickle-down economics. They keep telling us that if we’d convert more of our investments in education and research and health care into tax cuts — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger. They keep telling us that if we’d just strip away more regulations, and let businesses pollute more and treat workers and consumers with impunity, that somehow we’d all be better off. We’re told that when the wealthy become even wealthier, and corporations are allowed to maximize their profits by whatever means necessary, it’s good for America, and that their success will automatically translate into more jobs and prosperity for everybody else. That’s the theory.
Now, the problem for advocates of this theory is that we’ve tried their approach — on a massive scale. The results of their experiment are there for all to see. At the beginning of the last decade, the wealthiest Americans received a huge tax cut in 2001 and another huge tax cut in 2003. We were promised that these tax cuts would lead to faster job growth. They did not. The wealthy got wealthier — we would expect that. The income of the top 1 percent has grown by more than 275 percent over the last few decades, to an average of $1.3 million a year. But prosperity sure didn’t trickle down.
Instead, during the last decade, we had the slowest job growth in half a century. And the typical American family actually saw their incomes fall by about 6 percent, even as the economy was growing.
It was a period when insurance companies and mortgage lenders and financial institutions didn’t have to abide by strong enough regulations, or they found their ways around them. And what was the result? Profits for many of these companies soared. But so did people’s health insurance premiums. Patients were routinely denied care, often when they needed it most. Families were enticed, and sometimes just plain tricked, into buying homes they couldn’t afford. Huge, reckless bets were made with other people’s money on the line. And our entire financial system was nearly destroyed.
So we tried this theory out. And you would think that after the results of this experiment in trickle-down economics, after the results were made painfully clear, that the proponents of this theory might show some humility, might moderate their views a bit. You’d think they’d say, you know what, maybe some rules and regulations are necessary to protect the economy and prevent people from being taken advantage of by insurance companies or credit card companies or mortgage lenders. Maybe, just maybe, at a time of growing debt and widening inequality, we should hold off on giving the wealthiest Americans another round of big tax cuts. Maybe when we know that most of today’s middle-class jobs require more than a high school degree, we shouldn’t gut education, or lay off thousands of teachers, or raise interest rates on college loans, or take away people’s financial aid.
But that’s exactly the opposite of what they’ve done. Instead of moderating their views even slightly, the Republicans running Congress right now have doubled down, and proposed a budget so far to the right it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal. In fact, that renowned liberal, Newt Gingrich, first called the original version of the budget “radical” and said it would contribute to “right-wing social engineering.” This is coming from Newt Gingrich.
And yet, this isn’t a budget supported by some small group in the Republican Party. This is now the party’s governing platform. This is what they’re running on. One of my potential opponents, Governor Romney, has said that he hoped a similar version of this plan from last year would be introduced as a bill on day one of his presidency. He said that he’s “very supportive” of this new budget, and he even called it “marvelous” — which is a word you don’t often hear when it comes to describing a budget. It’s a word you don’t often hear generally.
So here’s what this “marvelous” budget does. Back in the summer, I came to an agreement with Republicans in Congress to cut roughly $1 trillion in annual spending. Some of these cuts were about getting rid of waste; others were about programs that we support but just can’t afford given our deficits and our debt. And part of the agreement was a guarantee of another trillion in savings, for a total of about $2 trillion in deficit reduction.
This new House Republican budget, however, breaks our bipartisan agreement and proposes massive new cuts in annual domestic spending –- exactly the area where we’ve already cut the most. And I want to actually go through what it would mean for our country if these cuts were to be spread out evenly. So bear with me. I want to go through this — because I don’t think people fully appreciate the nature of this budget.
The year after next, nearly 10 million college students would see their financial aid cut by an average of more than $1,000 each. There would be 1,600 fewer medical grants, research grants for things like Alzheimer’s and cancer and AIDS. There would be 4,000 fewer scientific research grants, eliminating support for 48,000 researchers, students, and teachers. Investments in clean energy technologies that are helping us reduce our dependence on foreign oil would be cut by nearly a fifth.
If this budget becomes law and the cuts were applied evenly, starting in 2014, over 200,000 children would lose their chance to get an early education in the Head Start program. Two million mothers and young children would be cut from a program that gives them access to healthy food. There would be 4,500 fewer federal grants at the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat violent crime, financial crime, and help secure our borders. Hundreds of national parks would be forced to close for part or all of the year. We wouldn’t have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food that we eat.
Cuts to the FAA would likely result in more flight cancellations, delays, and the complete elimination of air traffic control services in parts of the country. Over time, our weather forecasts would become less accurate because we wouldn’t be able to afford to launch new satellites. And that means governors and mayors would have to wait longer to order evacuations in the event of a hurricane.
That’s just a partial sampling of the consequences of this budget. Now, you can anticipate Republicans may say, well, we’ll avoid some of these cuts — since they don’t specify exactly the cuts that they would make. But they can only avoid some of these cuts if they cut even deeper in other areas. This is math. If they want to make smaller cuts to medical research that means they’ve got to cut even deeper in funding for things like teaching and law enforcement. The converse is true as well. If they want to protect early childhood education, it will mean further reducing things like financial aid for young people trying to afford college.
Perhaps they will never tell us where the knife will fall — but you can be sure that with cuts this deep, there is no secret plan or formula that will be able to protect the investments we need to help our economy grow.
This is not conjecture. I am not exaggerating. These are facts. And these are just the cuts that would happen the year after next…
Actions, as they say, speak louder than words, though. And, as I recall, Obama has spoken out on behalf of the middle class before, only to capitulate and extend the Bush tax cuts for the super-rich without having put up much of a fight. So, this could just be little election year theater, meant to fire up the dissatisfied base of the Democratic party at a time when their financial contributions are sorely needed. Still, though, ever word rings true, and I’m glad the facts are out there, regardless of the motivation behind them.