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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Obama vs. Ryan: Fake vs. real "adult discussion" of the budget. [Update: Obama announces Medicare eligibility age to drop to 60, or something]

This week, President Obama has deliberately, consciously tried to seize recognition as "the grown-up in the room" during contentious meetings over the debt ceiling and budget.

My Democratic friends are convinced that's accurate. They believe — they insist — that Obama's offered up meaningful cuts in entitlement program spending for Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security. They believe that just because Obama says it. But he hasn't offered up meaningful entitlement spending cuts; Obama's just talked about doing so, without actually committing to any specifics (except for specifically and categorically ruling out any reforms to any Obamacare provisions).

I think that falls in the category of pretending to be a grown-up. It works on those who want to believe it and who aren't very diligent in looking at supporting facts (or their absence).

So once again, I offer you Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the GOP chairman of the House Budget Committee. Ryan has instant recall of all the important data, and a thorough and deep understanding of competing policy arguments and considerations. I commend to you in its entirety the transcript of Rep. Ryan's appearance on my friend Hugh Hewitt's national radio show Thursday. A sample (boldface mine):

Look at the difference between our two parties. Look at what we’re fighting for, and look at what they’re fighting for. We want to limit government, and we want to cut spending. We don’t want to raise taxes in this economy or at any time on people, because that’s not the problem. What are the folks on the other side of the aisle, our friends on the other side of the aisle, want to increase spending, want to increase taxes. I haven’t seen a time where the contrast and the difference between two philosophies has been more clear. That’s what I would look at over the next two weeks. We will hopefully, next week, show you how we would fix this problem with our cut, cap and balance plan. It’s a plan to fix this mess, this fiscal mess, to deal with this debt limit. You’re seeing what the other side wants, just let’s just borrow more money, okay, we maxed out this credit card? Let’s go get another credit card. And that’s the basic two positions. So what does that tell you? We have divided government. Are we going to get everything we want? No. We have the House. We don’t control the Senate or the White House. Will the Democrats get everything they want? No, because they don’t have the House. So you’re going to see a product of divided government come in the next two weeks. But let’s not lose the forest for the trees, and that is where do we stand on the issues, and how would we fix it if we had our druthers, and where would they go if they had their way.

"No-Drama Obama" may be the least deserved nickname ever given an American president. This week he's tried to play the role of "Father Knows Best (Now Shut Up Dammit Before I Shred Grandma's Social Security Check)." I credit a great many other GOP leaders with trying their respective bests in what's increasingly become a muddled approach. But in my opinion, Ryan is the consistently adult voice from either side on all these issues. And in any policy debate setting that prevented Obama from having the Marine Band interrupt with "Ruffles and Flourishes," Ryan would eat Obama's lunch and then drink his milkshake.

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UPDATE (Sat Jul 16 @ 4pm): I asserted above that Obama has refused to commit to any specifics on cuts to entitlements, while pretending to have done so and insisting that he's done so. But look at the weasel-wiggling when ABC News' Jake Tapper put the question to Obama very directly yesterday (boldface and italics mine):

[Tapper:] You’ve said that reducing the deficit will require shared sacrifice. We know — we have an idea of the taxes that you would like to see raised on corporations and on Americans in the top two tax brackets, but we don’t yet know what you specifically are willing to do when it comes to entitlement spending. In the interest of transparency, leadership, and also showing the American people that you have been negotiating in good faith, can you tell us one structural reform that you are willing to make to one of these entitlement programs that would have a major impact on the deficit? Would you be willing to raise the retirement age? Would you be willing to means test Social Security or Medicare?

THE PRESIDENT: We’ve said that we are willing to look at all those approaches. I’ve laid out some criteria in terms of what would be acceptable. So, for example, I’ve said very clearly that we should make sure that current beneficiaries as much as possible are not affected. But we should look at what can we do in the out-years, so that over time some of these programs are more sustainable.

I’ve said that means testing on Medicare, meaning people like myself, if — I’m going to be turning 50 in a week. So I’m starting to think a little bit more about Medicare eligibility. (Laughter.) Yes, I’m going to get my AARP card soon — and the discounts.

But you can envision a situation where for somebody in my position, me having to pay a little bit more on premiums or co-pays or things like that would be appropriate. And, again, that could make a difference. So we’ve been very clear about where we’re willing to go.

What we’re not willing to do is to restructure the program in the ways that we’ve seen coming out of the House over the last several months where we would voucherize the program and you potentially have senior citizens paying $6,000 more. I view Social Security and Medicare as the most important social safety nets that we have. I think it is important for them to remain as social insurance programs that give people some certainty and reliability in their golden years.

But it turns out that making some modest modifications in those entitlements can save you trillions of dollars. And it’s not necessary to completely revamp the program. What is necessary is to say how do we make some modifications, including, by the way, on the providers’ side. I think that it’s important for us to keep in mind that drug companies, for example, are still doing very well through the Medicare program. And although we have made drugs more available at a cheaper price to seniors who are in Medicare through the Affordable Care Act, there’s more work to potentially be done there.

So if you look at a balanced package even within the entitlement programs, it turns out that you can save trillions of dollars while maintaining the core integrity of the program.

[Tapper:] And the retirement age?

THE PRESIDENT: I’m not going to get into specifics. As I said, Jake, everything that you mentioned are things that we have discussed. But what I’m not going to do is to ask for even — well, let me put it this way: If you’re a senior citizen, and a modification potentially costs you a hundred or two hundred bucks a year more, or even if it’s not affecting current beneficiaries, somebody who’s 40 today 20 years from now is going to end up having to pay a little bit more.

The least I can do is to say that people who are making a million dollars or more have to do something as well. And that’s the kind of tradeoff, that’s the kind of balanced approach and shared sacrifice that I think most Americans agree needs to happen.

"I'm not going to get into specifics." That could, and should, have been Obama's entire answer, because he once again refused to give any specifics at all. They maybe might "go in the direction" of raising eligibility ages, huh? As someone currently 53, that's an absolutely content-free statement of zero use to me in planning for my retirement. I am sure, however, that "We're willing to look at [fill in the blank]" amounts to a current savings of zero dollars in government expenditures. It's a promise of exactly nothing. It's an insult to your intelligence. It is something only said to stupid people to placate them.

Americans are left to parse this one peculiar bit of specificity from Mr. Obama: "[S]omebody who’s 40 today 20 years from now is going to end up having to pay a little bit more." Really? So we're going to lower the eligibility age to 60?

We have a president of the United States who thinks it's entirely cool to hold a press conference where he just makes up transparently silly numbers on the spot and spews them out into an uncritical media for eager consumption by eager-to-be-fooled groupies.

The only thing this long, rambling answer does is renew some familiar class-warfare themes and repeat always-broken promises of savings through magical (and soon-to-be-found! any day now!) efficiencies. We're once again assured that Barack Obama is all about punishing people for being prosperous. But solutions?

None. Nothing resembling substance. Just petulance, arrogance, class warfare, and smug self-righteousness.

PRESS: Be specific about structural cuts to which you're willing to commit!

OBAMA: Hey, guys, how about a joke about me joining AARP? I'm almost 50!

Posted by Beldar at 02:41 AM in 2012 Election, Budget/economics, Congress, Obama, Politics (2011), Ryan | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Ronnie made the following comment | Jul 16, 2011 6:03:20 AM | Permalink

In my opinion there are no two better voices for the GOP than Ryan and Rubio. The GOP should have these two gentlemen all over the TV shows explaining and convincing Americans that their direction is so much superior than Obama's. As you stated no one has a better handle on the facts than Ryan and he comes across as so likable and genuine. Rubio may not have all the details and facts on command like Ryan( no one does!), but boy can he present the issue in a common sense way that almost anyone could understand with such eloquence and clarity. R&R would also make an awesome ticket!!

(2) Kathy made the following comment | Jul 16, 2011 11:51:12 AM | Permalink

I totally agree with Ronnie. When I read the Hugh Hewett interview I immediately wished every American could read and understand it. Especially when he mentioned the huge tax increase automatically hitting us 2013 because of Obamacare - and hitting the job creators hardest of all. No one seems to talk about that in this current crisis.

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