Obama Poised For Showdown With Republicans Over Deficit Spending
President Barack Obama told supporters over the weekend that his number one priority, this year and beyond, is to keep the county’s sluggish economy continuing on the path toward recovery.
It’s a goal that both the president and Republican leaders share. Yet the contrasting ideas of how to achieve it and what it means for our nation’s $1.2 trillion deficit threatens to grind the federal government to a halt.
Obama said, in a video preview of his State of the Union address Tuesday, that he was looking to “deal with our debt and deficit in a responsible way.” While no official numbers have been put forward yet by the president’s economic team, insiders expect that he will keep many stimulus programs, such as Pell grants and a high-speed rail system, well funded.
It fits with his theme of investing in education and technology to aggressively compete in the global economy. But it also may mean increased spending in those areas.
Republicans, riding a wave of voter support in last November’s election, have ridiculed any proposal that doesn’t resemble an across-the-board cut.
“The American public, as one pundit put it, issued a massive restraining order, and I don't think we're going to go in that direction [increased spending] any longer,” said Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate.
The earliest roadblock to any spending plans could come in late spring when Obama will ask Congress to raise the ceiling of the national debt. Currently the county’s debt is $14 trillion and expected to surpass the previously set limit of $14.2 trillion.
This action of raising the limit, which is a fairly routine, non-voting resolution, has been a rallying cry to many Tea Party leaders. Republicans, who feel indebted to the grassroots, anti-spending movement, have threatened to stand in the way should they disagree with the president’s spending plan.
“Republicans are not going to vote for this increase in the debt limit unless there are serious spending cuts and reforms,” said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Both parties have agreed that spending cuts are necessary to fight a ballooning deficit. The harsh realities of its consequences has convinced sides to take unfamiliar postures.
The president’s bipartisan deficit commission recommended that Medicare and Social Security undergo major restructuring. Some Democratic leaders have supported this idea and proposed cutting Social Security benefits.
Likewise, Republicans advocating a “cut everything” mentality have been forced to deal with the possibility of reducing the defense budget—something they’ve been loath to do in the past.
Still, the president along with Democrats say that they are foremost committed to advancing the American economy.
“We can’t be so laser-focused on the deficit that we ignore the obvious, that we are still in a recession,” said Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
For more from Neon Tommy's special series examining Obama at the midpoint of his first term, click here.
Reach Tom Dotan here.