Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Look Into the Future?

Good afternoon,

Over five months ago Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle agreed to form a bipartisan committee to tackle the issue of our fiscal deficit. They agreed that if this committee’s recommendations were not passed by the end of this year that automatic cuts would be made to defense and discretionary programs. In the subsequent months, the spirit of agreement and compromise that began these talks quickly vanished as leaks of the discussions made their way to embattled partisans.

The media blames both sides equally for what followed. That’s an appealing story. It sounds fair and is the safe thing to say. However, though I don’t agree with every faction of my party, I think it’s clear to the American people there has consistently been one side that’s shown a willingness to compromise in this process. Democratic members of the committee reluctantly accommodated the Republican pledge against increased revenues. Democrats agreed to put extension of the Bush tax-cuts on the table as a show of good faith, despite ultimately receiving nothing in return. I reject the characterization of each parties as duplicitous in this failure.

These recommendations are the capstone to what has been an entire year dominated by a Republican willingness to subvert serious discussion. Their Senate leader launched the new Congress by saying his party’s number one priority was not jobs or the economy, but preventing my reelection. They decided to risk this country’s good credit for an opportunity to amuse the most radical members of their base. They took what was a mandate from voters to cut the deficit and perverted it into a call to slash Medicare and hand money to the rich. They took this committee’s proceedings as seriously as they took their other responsibilities and have once again passed the job of governing along to someone else.

This is not what voters asked for last November. They voted for a divided government and they wanted that government to work for them, not towards fulfilling any kind of ideological manifest destiny. Sadly, these politicians have chosen to violate the public trust. They stacked the deck against a reasonable outcome when they filled this debt commission with zealous partisans. No amount of compromise in the world can result in an acceptable outcome when one party’s prime motivation is making the other look bad.

A vote for this proposal is a vote for placing the burden of the debt on working families. It’s a vote for unprecedented irresponsibility and for a second recession. The right will try to spin opposition of this bill as an endorsement of the defense cuts triggered, but that decision was made at the outset. Republicans voted for it and then relentlessly pursued another showdown. I refuse to hand radicals another opportunity to hold this country’s economy hostage. The August debt ceiling vote was necessary to prevent a crisis- this bill is merely another attempt to redirect political blame for the consequences of bad policy.

I want to reduce the deficit. I made repeated attempts during the summer to strike a so-called “grand bargain” that cut the deficit by more than the opposition was willing to agree to. Last year, I created a bipartisan executive commission that recommended moving revenue and spending back towards the levels we had under President Clinton. I agreed to cuts in April and I agreed to even more cuts in August. Eventually though, we must realize we face problems that can’t be solved through spending cuts alone. Spending cuts can’t create jobs and they won’t fix the economy. Repeatedly throughout this process I called for a balanced solution and for policies that stimulate the economy, but those pleas fell on deaf ears. Instead we were handed a plan in November that would further weaken a nation already been damaged by this kind of approach.

It’s an approach not just of policy but of technique and of a philosophy that claims, “We broke it, you bought it.” We cannot continue to witness the destruction of government and take responsibility for its cleanup. It isn’t fair to once again make these Senators and Representatives vote for the lesser of two evils. They were brave enough to follow me in creating this committee to avert disaster; I won’t ask them to take a second vote that conflicts with their morals. That’s why I’m promising today to veto this proposal if it ever reaches my desk. Without a 2/3rds majority, that will be where this ends.

So what does that mean? First, the debt ceiling will be raised. We aren’t facing the same risk of default that we once did. Spending cuts will automatically take effect, with almost half of those coming from a bloated Pentagon budget. Not a single dollar will be taken out of Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare recipient benefits. There will be no cuts to unemployment insurance, programs for low-income families, or Federal retirement benefits. No soldier will see their pay affected and the cuts that are made won’t take effect until 2013 so as to not slow next year’s recovery.

This is not an ideal outcome. We worked as hard as we could to reach a balanced solution that wouldn’t restrict the economy. Unfortunately, this Congress has refused to have an honest discussion. They have placed loyalty to their party before all else. It’s my hope that in the coming months we can make our case to the public and achieve the majorities needed to return to serious governance. If we can get a Congress that is able to move beyond the rhetoric and hyperbole we will have the chance to reexamine some of these automatic cuts and make improvements.

Perhaps my decision today is poor politics; but it will ensure that, win or lose, the public knows exactly what this administration stands for. They will know their President places jobs and working families above defense lobbyists and tax cuts for the super rich. It’s my belief that making the budget top priority is a misreading of what truly concerns the American people. There are still families that have to decide between paying their bills on time and feeding their children. They might be upset at what they see their taxes being used for, but they aren’t worried about things like the effect debt levels have on bond rates. What worries them are politicians selling them out at every turn. The use of unemployment insurance as a bargaining chip. The threats made to Social Security, which is all that protects them should they become disabled or their spouse suddenly dies.

Everything we’ve done has been to serve these families. We fought for the Affordable Care Act, even though it wasn’t always the popular choice, so that the first thought through the mind of a patient diagnosed with cancer wouldn’t have to be the debt they might leave their children. Though poll numbers argued against it, we nationalized the auto companies and turned them around because it was important to us that we not abandon the workers who once made this country great. We were labeled socialists because we fought for an economic stimulus that added between 2.4 and 3.6 million jobs to those out of work and we created new protections to prevent the kind of predatory lending that contributed to the record 9 million foreclosures since 2007.

We haven’t had the kind of rapid success we all hoped for. I understand and respect the anger people have over the slow pace of recovery. I don’t know if our efforts will ultimately convince voters to go against their misgivings, but if we fail I will be happy knowing we brought real change that helped families. I will be comforted that, while the opposition threw stones and obstructed progress every step of the way, we did more good in three years than some Presidents can in eight.

I’m not willing to give up on this guiding philosophy. I will continue putting struggling families first for as long as I am President. That’s why I agreed to this committee, and also why I must reject its proposal. This country can do better! Let’s work together to go back to the drawing board!

Thank you, and God bless the United States of America.

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