Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Obama at the Business Roundtable talks about "entitlement reform," does not defend benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid


The speech has the two basic flaws most of his speech on the "fiscal cliff" nonsense have: he doesn't defend benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ("entitlements" in the jargon of the opponents of those programs) and he uses Republicans framing about the importance of reducing deficits rather than using federal stimulus to grow the economy out of the depression. Here is the video:



Now, any President speaking to the Business Roundtable would be expected to flatter them a bit, something to which Obama is more than receptive to doing. But there's fluff flattery. And there's stuff like this:

And I've said this to some of the small groups, let me repeat it to the large group -- I am passionately rooting for your success, because if the companies in this room are doing well, then small businesses and medium-sized businesses up and down the chain are doing well. If companies in this room are doing well, then folks get jobs, consumers get confidence, and we're going to be able to compete around the world.
He goes on to say, "Many of you, over the last two, three years, have experienced record profits or near record profits, and have a lot of money where you're prepared to invest in plants and equipment and hire folks."

He uses his Republican friendly framing in talking about the "fiscal cliff" farce:

During the entire campaign, I talked about the importance of short-term measures to boost growth but also a long-term plan to make sure that we've got our fiscal house in order, and I called for a balanced and responsible plan. My budget reflects a balanced, responsible plan, and I've shown myself willing to make some tough decisions when it comes to government spending -- because, despite, I think, my reputation or the reputation of Democrats, I don't think every government program works exactly the way it should. I think there are efficiencies that can be gained; there are some programs that used to work and just don't work now the way they were intended. And as a consequence, working with Democrats and Republicans last year, we were able to cut over a trillion dollars of spending -- the largest cut, by the way, in discretionary spending in history. So we're prepared to make some tough decisions when it comes to spending cuts. [my emphasis]
And he uses the buzzword "entitlements" to refer to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which invariably suggests that the speakers favors cuts in benefits to those programs:

And what I've proposed, what I put forward in the campaign and what I think a majority of the American people agreed with -- in fact, there's some folks who didn't vote for me that focus groups and polls show nevertheless they agreed with my concept when it comes to deficit reduction -- is that an approach that says we're going to raise additional revenue particularly from those who have done best in the economy over the last decade, combined with some smart cuts and with entitlement reform that can strengthen our social safety net over the long term but do so in a responsible way -- that's the way to go forward. And that's what we've put forward. [my emphasis]
And he refers to his current official proposal this way, again using the hostile term "entitlement" for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid:

So what we've said instead is let’s allow higher rates to go up for the top 2 percent -- that includes all of you, yes, but not in any way that’s going to affect your spending, your lifestyles, or the economy in any significant way; let’s make sure that 98 percent of Americans don't see a single dime in tax increases next year, 97 percent of small businesses don't see a single dime in tax increases next year -- and by doing that alone we raise almost a trillion dollars without any adverse effects on the economy.

Let’s combine that, then, with some additional spending cuts and some long-term entitlement reform that can get us to a number close to $4 trillion, which stabilizes our debt and our deficits relative to GDP for at least a decade, perhaps more. [my emphasis]
He returns to the theme again: "I think there’s a recognition that maybe they can accept some rate increases as long as it’s combined with serious entitlement reform and additional spending cuts." (my emphasis)

And again: "So, with that, let me just say we've got one path where we resolve this fairly quickly -- we've got some tough spending cuts, we reform our entitlements, we have modest revenue increases." (my emphasis)

Nowhere in his speech did he defend benefits on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid in any way.

This is not a good thing. The only encouraging part of this speech are the parts where he seems, maybe, we can hope, to realize that the Republicans jacked him around pitifully on the debt ceiling fight in 2011 and he doesn't want to do that again:

Let me make one last point and then I'll start taking questions. There had been reports -- and these are not necessarily confirmed, and maybe some of you have more insight than I do on this -- that perhaps the Republicans go ahead and let the middle-class tax cuts get extended, the upper-income tax cuts go up, otherwise we don't get a deal, and next year we come back and the thinking is Republicans will have more leverage because there will be another vote on the debt ceiling and we will try to extract more concessions with a stronger hand on the debt ceiling.

I have to just tell you that is a bad strategy for America. It is a bad strategy for our businesses. And it is not a game that I will play.

Most of you were involved in discussions and watched the catastrophe that happened in August of 2011. Everybody here is concerned about uncertainty; there's no uncertainty like the prospect that the United States of America, the largest economy that holds the world’s reserve currency potentially defaults on its debts; that we give up the basic notion that the United States stands behind its obligations.

And we can't afford to go there again. And this isn't just my opinion; it’s the opinion of most of the folks in this room. So when I hear some on the other side suggesting that to resolve the possibility of a perpetual or a quarterly debt ceiling crisis that there is a price to pay -- well, the price is paid by the American people and your businesses and the economic environment worldwide. And we should not accept going through that.

John Engler, who is, I think -- he and I philosophically don't agree on much -- (laughter) -- no, I'm just being honest about John, and he’s a great politician but he -- he originally comes from the other party -- but John is exactly right when he says the only thing that the debt ceiling is good for as a weapon is just to destroy your credit rating.

So I want to send a very clear message to people here: We are not going to play that game next year. If Congress in any way suggests that they’re going to tie negotiations to debt ceiling votes and take us to the brink of default once again as part of a budget negotiation -- which, by the way, we had never done in our history until we did it last year -- I will not play that game. Because we've got to break that habit before it starts. [my emphasis]
The only "catastrophe" that happened over the debt ceiling was that it made Obama look really bad. Maybe that's what he's referring to. And, if so, that's a good thing!

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