Mark My Words: The Conversation on Government Budget Cuts

On Wednesday afternoon, President Barack Obama finally emerged from the shadows and delivered a speech focused on addressing the budgetary crossfire that has dominated political discourse over the past few weeks.

His speech was fiery but reasonable, a glimpse of 2008’s Candidate Obama that had all but faded from popular memory thanks to a seemingly endless parade of quiet compromises and fumbled leadership opportunities. Most importantly, his speech presented a sober look at the daunting deficit while managing to retain the rhetorical flourish that made candidate Obama so successful.

The fact of the matter is, this country needs to have a rational conversation about our budget. Between three wars, unchecked spending, continuing tax cuts, and a Congress more focused on policy riders than fiscal sanity, this country is in dire need of a reset button for budget discussions. We haven’t had anything resembling reasonable discourse about our national checkbook in the last decade and stalling is no longer an option.

Unfortunately, while the President’s speech may have put the issue on the table, it will be a miraculous achievement if it stays there long.

Within hours, Republican 2012 hopefuls placed themselves in firm opposition to the president’s proposal. Mitt Romney called Obama’s ideas “too little, too late,” stating that instead of engaging in a real discussion, “the president dug deep into his liberal playbook.” Tim Pawlenty called the speech “nothing more than window dressing.” Newt Gingrich took to his bully pulpit to accuse the President of operating under a “left wing worldview that will hurt seniors, kill jobs, raise gas prices, and increase our crushing debt.”

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), whose budget proposal President Obama attacked directly, responded by blasting the President’s speech, saying that “what we heard today was not political leadership,” but “partisan rhetoric.” The problem with all of these Republican responses is that they turn to partisanship and name-calling rather than rebutting the president’s arguments and proposals. Calling Obama’s speech “hyperventilating rhetoric” and “absurd” is an attempt to distract, not engage.

Rather than addressing Obama’s criticism of replacing Medicare with a voucher system, congressional Republicans blasted him for daring to suggest returning taxes to Clinton-era levels. Instead of discussing the merits of defense cuts that are supported by the secretary of defense and the joint chiefs of staff, Ryan focused on what he perceived to be “bitter partisanship.”

This is not how adults should act and this is certainly not how elected officials should govern.

The president’s proposal wasn’t perfect but it was a legitimate effort to start a discussion with everything on the table, while simultaneously rebutting the opposition’s plan. The Republican reaction should have countered the president’s points and defended Ryan’s budget proposal. Instead, Republicans chose to engage in finger pointing and childish ad-homonyms. The president has agreed to sit down at the table by engaging with the Republican budget proposal on the national stage. It’s time the Republicans joined the President at the table and made their case to the American people in a reasonable and rational matter. The American people deserve nothing less.

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