One can hardly blame the President for turning the State of the Union address into another campaign speech. It is what you expect from any President seeking reelection. One might wonder what it means that this speech is very similar to the one he gave a year ago. Perhaps campaigning is all he has ever known how to do.
Nor can one blame the President for barely mentioning his signature legislative achievement: health care reform. It remains deeply unpopular.
One can take the President to task for barely mentioning the most serious problem facing the federal and state governments: our runaway debt. The New York Times is as oblivious as he is.
After a rough start to 2011, economic numbers have improved, and Mr. Obama has pushed Congress to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits and outlined an ambitious jobs agenda. But the country's problems are profound. There are 13.1 million unemployed, and the risk of stagnation is real. Republican candidates are pounding on the wrong, but seductive, notion that the real problem is government spending — especially on the "others," the poor and minorities. Congressional Republicans have barely wavered in their obstructionism…
Mr. Obama's idea to use half of the savings from winding down the wars for public-works projects is laudable and could put hundreds of thousands back to work. Republicans are sure to insist that the money be used for deficit reduction, setting up another battle to simply do the obviously right thing.
The only thing the Times is afraid of is the possibility that spending might actually be reduced. Those who call for deficit reduction are just standing in the way of simply doing "the obvious right thing."
Once again Mr. Obama slighted the threat that the federal deficit poses to the growth he said he wants. As with last year's State of the Union speech, when he relegated the debt to a near-aside late in the speech, Mr. Obama did not go beyond a rhetorical nod to the issue. Indeed, in arguing for increased investment in U.S. infrastructure — a worthy idea — Mr. Obama gave up on the traditional approach of paying with an increase in the gasoline tax or similar user fees. Instead, he relied on the dodge of "paying for" those costs by using some of the savings from winding down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The administration is right to be frustrated by congressional unwillingness to consider real pay-fors, but wrong to respond with a measure that would just make the deficit worse.
Let's take another look at what the WaPo is talking about.
That dotted line is what the President and his New York Times are resolutely ignoring. It is based on the President's own budget of last February. In other words, that is not what happens if his plan fails. That's his plan.
To hear something about the national debt on Tuesday, you had to hang around to listen to Governor Mitch Daniels' response.
In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt. And yet, the President has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead. The federal government now spends one of every four dollars in the entire economy; it borrows one of every three dollars it spends. No nation, no entity, large or small, public or private, can thrive, or survive intact, with debts as huge as ours…
In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we are only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out, if we are to avoid the fate of Europe, and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.
I have a hard time forgiving Mitch Daniels for not putting his hat in the Republican ring. He has at least reminded listeners of what the President choses to forget. The WaPo has this:
Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, delivering the Republican rebuttal, had the fiscal question right when he said: "If we drift, quarreling and paralyzed, over a Niagara of debt, we will all suffer, regardless of income, race, gender, or other category." But his eloquence is undercut by his party's refusal, far more doctrinaire than Mr. Obama's, to entertain responsible proposals to pay for the nation's needs.
I happen to think that that is fair. The President's problem on the fiscal question isn't that he is doctrinaire; it is that he is consistently missing in action.
We can be reasonably certain that the President will continue to ignore the real problem for four more years if he gets four more years. The Democrats in Congress will continue to enable him if they hold on to the Senate. The day after the President's speech marked the 1,000th day since the Senate passed a budget.