By Gail Collins – The New York Times.
I have faith in Barack Obama. Of course, I also have faith in the New York Mets.
I believe Obama is going to get his groove back and be the leader we elected, even though he is testing us sorely. This week he went to South Korea to negotiate a trade agreement, and the agreement fell through. The administration says this is because he was being a tough bargainer, but you don’t send the president overseas to fail to get an agreement. Wasn’t anybody taking notes when he went to Denmark to fail to get the Olympics for Chicago?
Also, the president has been looking very wishy-washy on the Bush tax cuts. We all know that he wants to extend the tax cuts for the middle class and end them for the wealthy. But that will require a huge battle with the Republicans in Congress, and the statements coming out of the White House have not exactly sounded as if everybody’s going to the mattresses. “We need to deal with the world as we find it,” David Axelrod, an adviser to Obama, told The Huffington Post.
The theory is that the president should sound reasonable so that if the Republicans dig in their heels, they will look like the bad guys. But refusing to give an expensive break to millionaires at a time of high deficits should be a crusade. Take it to the people — let’s enjoy politics for a change! Then, if Congress sends the president a bill extending the tax breaks for everybody, the nation will be on his side when he vetoes it.
Axelrod wouldn’t comment on anything having the word “veto” in it, but he did tell me that the president “will not make the tax cuts for the wealthy permanent.”
So I have faith he will do the right thing, even though Axelrod’s line in the sand does not rule out temporarily extending everything for a couple more years. Obama must know that that would be wasting a great opportunity to define his party as the champion of fiscal responsibility. It would be even worse than going to South Korea to not sign a trade agreement.
Finally, I believe that the president will pick the right course on the deficit.
Unfortunately, before we go any further, we are going to have to discuss the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, which is led by Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.
Until this week, I had expected to be able to go through my entire life without ever having a single thought about Erskine Bowles.
He’s a businessman best known for having been deputy chief of staff for President Bill Clinton. And now that I think of it, I do remember that at some point in the 1990s, I entertained a fleeting question about what kind of name Erskine was.
Simpson, the better known co-chairman, is a former senator who is famous for his witty remarks, such as referring to the AARP as “the greedy geezers of America” and calling Social Security “a milk cow with 310 million tits.” In other words, he is exactly the sort of person who gives being colorful a bad name.
The two of them just released a long list of extremely unpleasant things that they think Congress should do to eliminate deficit spending by 2015. It’s just their ideas. The 18-person commission hasn’t voted on anything yet. Nevertheless, everybody in Washington is talking about “Bowles-Simpson.”
That in itself should tell you how far we’ve fallen as a nation. A couple of years ago we were all walking around saying: “Wow, Barack Obama is president!” Now we’re all saying: “What do you think of Bowles-Simpson?”
Doesn’t Bowles-Simpson sound a lot like a medical procedure? Or a really high-end vacuum cleaner?
The report was impressive in the rigor of its demands for hard decisions, but not all that much else. It went on in great detail about how to fix Social Security, which is actually the one thing for which anybody could come up with a plan. Social Security is like the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Everybody knows pretty much what to do, but nobody knows how to talk the Israelis and Palestinians into doing it.
The real gorilla in the deficit room is health costs. In fact, it’s a rabid big gorilla with a machine gun. All Bowles and Simpson said on that subject is that the government should establish “a process to regularly evaluate cost growth.” If that doesn’t work, they advised taking “additional steps as needed.”
So not the greatest blueprint in history. But the worst thing you could do would be to dismiss it out of hand, like Nancy Pelosi, who called it “simply unacceptable.” The people of America made it clear in the election that they want something done about the deficit. The president’s responsibility is to show them he’s going to heed their orders, and then follow through without making the economy worse or cutting critical services.
I have faith that Obama is going to do just that, and that this time he’ll respond to the challenge in a way that isn’t remote or opaque or confusing. Also, next year: the Mets. World Series.