His vision is better than that of the right, but does it go far enough?
I drew four conclusions from Obama’s speech about the budget on Wednesday. First, President Obama should have given this particular speech a long time ago — it would have been vastly more valuable a year ago. What he did best of all in this speech was make quite clear three broad values: the importance of the public sector, the importance of progressiveness and basic fairness, and a clear understanding that there are limits to what even we can afford. His vision of America should be incomparably more attractive to Americans than the nihilistic view of the right.
Second, the actual budget implied by his speech (it was a set of broad guidelines, not a budget) is far preferable to that of Congressman Ryan, but even so is not the budget the nation needs and it is not going to happen anyway. There are no mechanisms, no proposals, no hints of how an actual dialogue might occur. We are stuck with two proposals staking out the ends of the spectrum, and nothing in the middle and certainly nothing that redefines that spectrum.
Third, there is nothing transformative here. Long before he was president, I sat across a small restaurant breakfast table with then Senator Obama — who told me directly that he intended to be a transformative president. I said that was easier said than done. He said he knew he would have to accept bigger risks and take new positions. He said that, especially in this era’s gridlocked politics, a transformative president might be the only kind of president who could be successful. None of that is evident here.
Finally, maybe in this awful political climate this is just the way things are going to be. It is a good, if minimal, thing that both parties want to avoid a debt crisis — and maybe the avoidance of catastrophe is all we can do. But we will have a more enfeebled public sector, way too little public investment, a bad tax system, way too little private sector investment, and low economic growth. We are where we are.
Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter is formerly 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.