In his speech to an Associated Press luncheon in Washington today, President Obama harshly criticized the budget proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan.
In other words, he told the simple truth about it.
By 2014, he warned, “nearly 10 million college students would see their financial aid cut by an average of more than $1,000 each … 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 … Hundreds of national parks would be forced to close for part or all of the year … 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.”
Etc. etc. etc. “This is not conjecture,” Obama noted. I am not exaggerating. These are facts. And these are just the cuts that would happen the year after next.” By the middle of the century, funding for those and other endeavors would have to be cut by 95 percent in order to remain in the spending limits ordained by the Ryan budget.
As the excerpts above suggest, the speech was a direct, detailed and sustained dissection of the Ryan budget. Here was Ryan’s response in its entirety:
“History will not be kind to a President who, when it came time to confront our generation’s defining challenge, chose to duck and run. The President refuses to take responsibility for the economy and refuses to offer a credible plan to address the most predictable economic crisis in our history. Instead, he has chosen tired and cynical political attacks as he focuses on his own re-election.
“The President has offered four budgets during his four years in the White House – each committed to funding ever-higher government spending by taking more from hardworking Americans and adding to a crushing burden of debt. His failed agenda is stifling opportunity and hope for the next generation.
“Like his reckless budgets, today’s speech by President Obama is as revealing as it is disappointing: While others lead by offering real solutions, he has chosen to distort the truth and divide Americans in order to distract from his failed record. His empty promises are quickly becoming broken promises – and the American people will hold him accountable for this violation of their trust.”
The lack of detail or facts is telling, as are the stock condemnations. For example, Ryan claims that Obama “has chosen to distort the truth,” yet he offers no evidence or specific example of such distortion. As you might expect, he also accuses Obama of “adding to a crushing burden of debt” that is “stifling opportunity and hope for the next generation.”
“Now, the proponents of this budget will tell us we have to make all these draconian cuts because our deficit is so large; this is an existential crisis, we have to think about future generations, so on and so on. And 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.
We’re told that these tax cuts will supposedly be paid for by closing loopholes and eliminating wasteful deductions. But the Republicans in Congress refuse to list a single tax loophole they are willing to close. Not one. And by the way, there is no way to get even close to $4.6 trillion in savings without dramatically reducing all kinds of tax breaks that go to middle-class families — tax breaks for health care, tax breaks for retirement, tax breaks for homeownership.”
The debate over the budget is a debate over our future as a nation and a people. Its outcome will reflect our values and to a large degree determine our future. As Obama noted, it “is not just another run-of-the-mill political debate. I’ve said it’s the defining issue of our time, and I believe it.”
So let’s have that debate. Let’s discuss it factually and honestly, in as much detail as the American people can stand. Let’s cut through the ideology and assess its impact on real people. Let’s take a close look at the consequences of the various choices for ourselves, but more importantly for our children and grandchildren.
That, in essence, was the challenge issued today by Obama. He seems eager to fight it out on those grounds, and I’ll be very interested to how the right responds to his challenge. So far, I am not impressed.
– Jay Bookman