Obama the War President?
Barack Obama was a war president tonight. And, yes, I mean to haul out some of the baggage the last president attached to the term.
What stood out in Obama’s second press conference as president were the threats. If we don’t embrace Obama’s budget priorities, this country won’t just fail to meet its potential. If Congress doesn’t induce a market for renewable energy, invest in all manner of infrastructure or take up his health proposals, America simply “won't grow.”
Asked about his plan to eliminate tax write-offs for charitable giving, he foretold of economic catastrophe if he didn’t get the policy: “I'll tell you what has a significant impact on charitable giving, is a financial crisis and an economy that's contracting.”
He even wore a flag pin.
And, for good measure, he dubiously insisted that the alternative was to “stand pat” and to “continue to contract.” Who, indeed, would prefer that?
The president’s words were, frankly, scary. Obama needed them to be. He has high ambitions, seeking to grab hold of nearly every third rail in town. And because an economic disaster has shaken the country, his warnings have a ring of plausibility they would never have had before the financial crisis hit. He is also right that rising health care costs could bankrupt the country in the long-term -- even if the American economy could zoom along without, say, pouring federal cash into rural broadband.
As his predecessor discovered, though, Obama can ring the alarm only so many times before his warnings lose their power. And we learned tonight that the president has a lot more he wants to do. He had to grant that, for all the ambition in his budget, he hasn’t fully tackled the greatest long-term challenge facing American policymakers: reform of untouchable but increasingly expensive entitlement programs, which drain more and more of the federal budget each year. Saving enough money on those will have to take “a whole host of adjustments” over coming years.
It’s not even clear Obama’s dire warnings can focus Congress’s mind enough to pass the reforms he just proposed. In fact, tonight he signaled that he has already ceded ground. Obama all but admitted that he would give up some of the middle-class tax cuts he wants and that a cap-and-trade regime to limit Carbon emissions might not make it into in the budget Congress is currently assembling.
Pitching his whole reform package as the only way to avoid economic calamity might be the only way for his presidency to avoid a political one. Even then, it’s pretty risky.
Update: Some in the comments section point out that Obama doesn't want to totally eliminate all tax write-offs for charitable contributions; he wants to limit those wealthy Americans can claim. They are right, and I should have been clearer. Thanks.
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