(All three of these speeches are quoted from the White House's archives. All bolded emphasis is mine.)
In April of 2011, President Obama gave a speech on fiscal policy at George Washington University. He invited Ryan, the chair of the House Budget Committee and author of a recently unveiled budget proposal, to sit in the front row. And this is what the president said:
Now, to their credit, one vision has been presented and championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates. It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that.
These are both worthy goals. They’re worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known certainly in my lifetime. In fact, I think it would be fundamentally different than what we’ve known throughout our history.
A 70 percent cut in clean energy. A 25 percent cut in education. A 30 percent cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s the proposal. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kinds of cuts that the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kinds of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America that I believe in and I think you believe in.
I believe it paints a vision of our future that is deeply pessimistic. It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them.
Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. They’re scrambling to figure out how they put more money into education. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but on biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the American people, the United States of America -– the greatest nation on Earth -– can’t afford any of this.
It’s a vision that says America can’t afford to keep the promise we’ve made to care for our seniors. It says that 10 years from now, if you’re a 65-year-old who’s eligible for Medicare, you should have to pay nearly $6,400 more than you would today. It says instead of guaranteed health care, you will get a voucher. And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy the insurance that’s available in the open marketplace, well, tough luck -– you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.
It’s a vision that says up to 50 million Americans have to lose their health insurance in order for us to reduce the deficit. Who are these 50 million Americans? Many are somebody’s grandparents -- may be one of yours -- who wouldn’t be able to afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle-class families who have children with autism or Down’s syndrome. Some of these kids with disabilities are -- the disabilities are so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the Americans we’d be telling to fend for themselves.
And worst of all, this is a vision that says even though Americans can’t afford to invest in education at current levels, or clean energy, even though we can’t afford to maintain our commitment on Medicare and Medicaid, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. Think about that.
In the last decade, the average income of the bottom 90 percent of all working Americans actually declined. Meanwhile, the top 1 percent saw their income rise by an average of more than a quarter of a million dollars each. That’s who needs to pay less taxes?
They want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors each to pay $6,000 more in health costs. That’s not right. And it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.
This vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America. Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan. There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don't think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. That's not a vision of the America I know.
Paul Ryan was quoted after the speech as thinking the president was going to "extend an olive branch" to him. That did not happen.
Nor did it happen last December, when the president spoke in Osawatomie, Kansas:
Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes -- especially for the wealthy -- our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.
This past April, the president eviscerated Ryan's budget at an Associated Press luncheon, in enough detail to form the template of the rhetoric we will see over the next three months
Now, it’s a simple theory. And we have to admit, it’s one that speaks to our rugged individualism and our healthy skepticism of too much government. That’s in America’s DNA. And that theory fits well on a bumper sticker. (Laughter.) But here’s the problem: It doesn’t work. It has never worked. It didn’t work when it was tried in the decade before the Great Depression. It’s not what led to the incredible postwar booms of the ‘50s and ‘60s. And it didn’t work when we tried it during the last decade. I mean, understand, it’s not as if we haven’t tried this theory.
Remember in those years, in 2001 and 2003, Congress passed two of the most expensive tax cuts for the wealthy in history. And what did it get us? The slowest job growth in half a century. Massive deficits that have made it much harder to pay for the investments that built this country and provided the basic security that helped millions of Americans reach and stay in the middle class -- things like education and infrastructure, science and technology, Medicare and Social Security.
Remember that in those same years, thanks to some of the same folks who are now running Congress, we had weak regulation, we had little oversight, and what did it get us? Insurance companies that jacked up people’s premiums with impunity and denied care to patients who were sick, mortgage lenders that tricked families into buying homes they couldn’t afford, a financial sector where irresponsibility and lack of basic oversight nearly destroyed our entire economy.
We simply cannot return to this brand of “you’re on your own” economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future. We know it doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens.
Back in the summer, I came to an agreement with the Republicans in Congress to cut roughly $1 trillion in annual spending. Some of these cuts were about getting rid of waste, others were about programs that we support but just can’t afford given our deficits and our debt. And part of the agreement was a guarantee of another trillion in savings for a total of about $2 trillion in deficit reduction.
This new House Republican budget, however, breaks our bipartisan agreement and proposes massive new cuts in annual domestic spending. Exactly the area where we’ve already cut the most. And I want to actually go through what it would mean for our country if these cuts were to be spread out evenly. So bear with me. I want to go through this because I don’t think people fully appreciate the nature of this budget.
The year after next, nearly 10 million college students would see their financial aid cut by an average of more than $1,000 each. There would be 1,600 fewer medical grants. Research grants for things likes Alzheimer’s and cancer and AIDS. There would be 4,000 fewer scientific research grants, eliminating support for 48,000 researchers, students and teachers.
Investments in clean energy technology that are helping us reduce our dependence on foreign oil would be cut by nearly a fifth. If this budget becomes law, and the cuts were applied evenly starting in 2014, 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.
There would be 4,500 fewer federal grants at the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat violent crime, financial crime and help secure our borders. Hundreds of national parks would be forced to close for part or all of the year. We wouldn’t have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food that we eat.
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. Over time, our weather forecasts would become less accurate because we wouldn’t be able to afford to launch new satellites and that means governors and mayors would have to wait longer to order evacuations in the event of a hurricane.
That’s just a partial sampling of the consequences of this budget. Now, you can anticipate, Republicans may say, well, we’ll avoid some of these cuts since they don’t specify exactly the cuts that they would make. But they can only avoid some of these cuts if they cut even deeper in other areas.
This is math. If they want to make smaller cuts to medical research, that means they’ve got to cut even deeper in funding for things like teaching and law enforcement. The converse is true as well. If they want to protect early childhood education, it will mean further reducing things like financial aid for young people trying to afford college. Perhaps they will never tell us where the knife will fall, but you can be sure that with cuts this deep, there is no secret plan or formula that will be able to protect the investments we need to help our economy grow.
This is not conjecture. I am not exaggerating. These are facts. And these are just the cuts that would happen the year after next. If this budget became law by the middle of the century, funding for the kinds of things I just mentioned would have to be cut by about 95 percent. Let me repeat that. Those categories I just mentioned, we would have to cut by 95 percent. As a practical matter, the federal budget would basically amount to whatever’s left of entitlements, defense spending and interest on the national debt, period.
Money for these investments that have traditionally been supported on a bipartisan basis would be practically eliminated. And the same is true for other priorities like transportation, homeland security and veteran programs for the men and women who have risked their lives for this country. This is not an exaggeration. Check it out yourself.
And this is to say nothing about what the budget does to health care. We’re told that Medicaid would simply be handed over to the states. That’s the pitch. Let’s get it out of the central bureaucracy. The states can experiment. They’ll be able to run the programs a lot better.
But here’s the deal the states would be getting. They would have to be running these programs in the face of the largest cut to Medicaid that has ever been proposed. A cut, that according to one nonpartisan group, would take away health care for about 19 million Americans. Nineteen million.
Who are these Americans? Many are someone’s grandparents who, without Medicaid, won’t be able to afford nursing home care without Medicaid. Many are poor children. Some are middle class families who have children with autism or down syndrome. Some are kids with disabilities so severe that they require 24-hour care. These are the people who count on Medicaid.
Then there’s Medicare. Because health care costs keep rising and the baby boom generation is retiring, Medicare we all know is one of the biggest drivers of our long term deficit. That’s a challenge we have to meet by bringing down the cost of health care overall so that seniors and taxpayers can share in the savings.
But here’s the solution proposed by the Republicans in Washington, and embraced by most of their candidates for president. Instead of being enrolled in Medicare when they turn 65, seniors who retire a decade from now would get a voucher that equals the cost of the second cheapest health care plan in their area. If Medicare is more expensive than that private plan, they’ll have to pay more if they want to enroll in traditional Medicare. If health care costs rise faster than the amount of the voucher, as, by the way, they’ve been doing for decades, that’s too bad. Seniors bear the risk. If the voucher isn’t enough to buy a private plan with the specific doctors and care that you need, that’s too bad.
So most experts will tell you the way this voucher plan encourages savings is not through better care at cheaper cost. The way these private insurance companies save money is by designing and marketing plans to attract the youngest and healthiest seniors, cherry picking, leaving the older and sicker seniors in traditional Medicare, where they have access to a wide range of doctors and guaranteed care. But that, of course, makes the traditional Medicare program even more expensive and raise premiums even further. The net result is that our country will end up spending more on health care and the only reason the government will save any money, it won’t be on our books, is because we shifted it to seniors. They’ll bear more of the costs themselves. It’s a bad idea and it will ultimately end Medicare as we know it.
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 and 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.
Meanwhile, these proposed tax breaks would come on top of more than a trillion dollars in tax giveaways for people making more than $250,000 a year. That’s an average of at least $150,000 for every millionaire in this country, $150,000. Let’s just step back for a second and look at what $150,000 pays for. A year’s worth of prescription drug coverage for a seniors citizen, plus a new school computer lab, plus a year of medical care for a returning veteran, plus a medical research grant for a chronic disease, plus a year’s salary for a firefighter or a police officer, plus a tax credit to make a year of college more affordable, plus a year’s worth of financial aid, $150,000 could pay for all of these things combined. Investment in education, research that are essential to economic growth that benefits all of us.
For $150,000, that would be going to each millionaire and billionaire in this country. This budget says we’d be better off as a country if that’s how we spent it. This is supposed to be about paying down our deficit? It’s laughable.
Those three speeches provide the focus and details of how Barack Obama has run his campaign against Mitt Romney. They happen to be specifically about Paul Ryan's budget proposal. Now that Romney has added Ryan to the ticket, the campaign is even clearer. I agree with Montanaro's conclusion:
The two sides will have starkly different economic messages. The lines of division couldn’t be more clearly drawn. Not only did Romney get his man, but so did Obama.
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