Once again Liberals/progressives and a large sector of the electorate have witnessed a dismal and disappointing performance by President Obama and the Democrats. In the face of staunch opposition by conservatives and fanatical determination by the Tea Party Caucus, the Democrats and Obama abandoned the “principle” that legislation to lift the Debt Ceiling must include “revenues” as well as cuts in spending. Even though polls indicated support for Obama´s concept of a “balanced” approach, including closing tax loopholes for the wealthy, he and the Democrats capitulated, handing the Grand Obstructionist Party (GOP) another major victory. Though some Tea Party fanatics wanted total victory (they wanted even more draconian cuts in spending), House Speaker John Boehner was content to declare that he had achieved 98% of what he wanted!
The bill calls for $2.4 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years, $970 billion of which must be imposed immediately. By Christmas of this year a bi-partisan Congressional Super Committee composed of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats is to recommend another 1.5 trillion in savings. If the Super Committee cannot come up with a proposal or the Congress votes its proposal down, 50% of the savings would automatically be imposed from social programs and 50% from Defense. In previewing the next battle of the debt/deficit, President Obama served notice that “everyone will have to chip in. That´s the principle I will be fighting for during the next phase of the process.” Obama was signaling that this time, this round would be different, essentially promising that revenues from closing tax loopholes on the wealthy and/or increases in taxes for those with incomes of $250,000 or more, will be part of the package.
The problem is we´ve seen this movie before. Obama huffed and puffed and drew a line in the sand declaring that he would not extend the Bush tax cuts as part of the 2011 budget agreement. When the GOP called his bluff by screaming that taxes should not be raised on anyone during an economic slow-down, Obama backed down – a capitulation that increased the deficit by some $800 billion. During his Budget message he huffed and puffed that Medicare and Social Security were off the table and would be protected at all costs. Apparently, Speaker Boehner challenged him on this pledge when they struck their “grand deal” that would have resulted in $4.5 trillion in savings over the next decade. By his own admission, the President put cuts in Medicare and Social Security on the table. Now he is huffing and puffing that he will really fight to ensure that savings from revenue will be part of the next deal. Well by now we know that Obama sometimes talks a good game, but the obstructionists are totally prepared to say, “not by the hair on my chinny chin chin.” Having successfully called the President´s bluff on more than one occasion, they will hold fast to their demand for a spending cuts only approach, confident that when the going gets tough, Obama will lead the majority of Democrats in full retreat!
This is what´s so disappointing and frustrating about President Obama. Liberals/progressives and a sizeable segment of the American electorate keep waiting for him to lead, to stand and fight for anything, as opposed to positioning himself as the “referee” in a game where he should be picking sides and sticking to his “principles.” At the eleventh hour when it became clear that the obstructionists were willing to default on America´s debt if they could not get their way, President Obama should have invoked the power some constitutional scholars and former President Clinton indicated he had at his disposal under the 14th Amendment and raised the debt ceiling by Executive Order. Simultaneously, he should have sent Congress his “balanced” deficit reduction package with increases in revenue and spending cuts, timed to kick-in after economic indicators signal the economy is in full recovery. In a separate bill, the President should have submitted a New Deal type WPA/CCC jobs program to put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work immediately; an act which progressive economists believe would stimulate the economy by increasing aggregate demand/consumer spending. No doubt the obstructionists would have cried foul, and there would have been court challenges. It would have been too late because the debt ceiling would have been raised. The President would have come off as a bold and decisive leader! This time the huff and the puff would not have been a bluff. This is the Obama we´ve been waiting to emerge to no avail.
Rather than act boldly, Obama has allowed the obstructionists to handcuff him with a deficit reduction deal with cuts that stifle his ability to put forward a meaningful jobs program. Indeed, there is the imminent danger that reducing spending will further aggravate a stagnating economy. By calling Obama and the Democrats´ bluff, the obstructionists are forcing them to play with what they hope is a losing hand in the 2012 elections – high unemployment/joblessness, crawling GDP, low consumer confidence and legions of people who feel the country is headed in the wrong direction. At the moment, Obama´s prospects for re-election appear dim. They will become bleaker unless he sheds the self-imposed shackles of timidity, caution and obsessive bi-partisanship. He needs to stand, fight and lead or all may be lost.
To be fair, there were a number of Democrats, many of whom are associated with the Progressive Caucus in Congress, who voted no on the deficit/debt bill deeming it harmful to the interests of workers, the middle class and poor people. In fact the Progressive Caucus urged Obama to reject the bill and lift the debt ceiling using provisions of the 14th Amendment. The vision and courage of these Democrats is to be commended. Hopefully, they will be among those who will join in a major effort to galvanize a liberal-progressive force for change in 2012 and beyond. Liberal-progressives cannot allow disappointment with Obama to deter the essential effort of building a movement with a message so clear and an economic security platform so strong that a majority of Americans will repel the obstructionists and align with the forces seeking to create a more just and humane society.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com . To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org