I keep trying to get off the issue of healthcare because I think there are other issues that are at least as important. I keep coming back to it, not because of the inherent fascination of the issue, but because it has begun to color almost every issue of politics, governance, White House strategy and management — or who progressives are in this day and age. I have felt this particularly as I watch the Sunday morning talk shows, where progressives try unconvincingly to cope with the problem of cost.
The blunt truth is that there is no one on the progressive side today who can talk about costs and deficits, what the nation can or can’t afford, and be taken seriously. Bill Clinton was the last one who could. In his speech, President Obama fell right into this trap. He made a cost pledge that neither his administration nor Congress understands or is prepared to keep. He also said savings would come out of “fraud and abuse.” The term should be permanently outlawed from this president’s speeches. The entire political community, but I think particularly progressives, uses this phrase as though they believe there is some category in the national accounts called “fraud and abuse”. We have to face the reality that progressives have a much greater credibility gap on cost and deficit issues than does the right — and therefore progressives have to be much more careful and convincing. I know this is not fair. The Bush Administration’s decisions to cut taxes without caring about the deficit and to go to war without paying for it are the immediate factors that got us into these circumstances. But whoever said politics was fair?
We are headed into an era when these issues are going to matter a great deal. (I guess there is always a possibility that we will solve all of the impending budget issues in short order and won’t have to worry.) Progressives are going to have to come to grips with the fact that they will have to learn not only how to act in a very different context, but also to talk in one.
Roosevelt Institute Braintruster Bo Cutter is a managing partner of Warburg Pincus, a major global private equity firm. Recently, he served as the leader of President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) transition team.