Obama Admits: Not Interested in Deficit Reduction

The president’s excuses for not reducing the deficit turned out to be just that: excuses.

President Barack Obama reads a briefing at Camp David, Maryland, October 21, 2012
President Barack Obama reads a briefing at Camp David, Maryland, October 21, 2012 (White House/Pete Souza)

“We don’t have an immediate crisis in terms of debt,” President Barack Obama told ABC News in an interview that was broadcast on Wednesday. “In fact,” he said, “for the next ten years, it’s going to be in a sustainable place.”

Although the Congressional Budget Office expects the debt to grow $7 trillion during that time — which is an increase of more than a third.

“We’re not going to balance the budget in ten years,” the president explained because the only way to accomplish that is “on the backs of, you know, the poor, the elderly, students who need student loans, families who’ve got disabled kids.” In other words: the Republican plan which does achieve balance in ten years’ time.

The rhetoric is unfortunately familiar. According to the Democrat, the fiscal crisis simply isn’t and the only reason there isn’t more deficit reduction is Republican intransigence.

Throughout his first four years in office, the president said repeatedly that he was willing to make the “hard choices” necessary to reduce the deficit. Indeed, before he was even elected, Obama expressed alarm in his book The Audacity of Hope (2006) at the “mountain of debt” caused by $300 billion deficits and later described the spendthrift of his Republican predecessor as “unpatriotic.” He went on to preside over deficits in excess of $1 trillion.

Before assuming office, Obama told The Washington Post that the country wasn’t in a position “to kick it any further,” referring to the need for fiscal consolidation.

Yet as president, he spent nearly $800 billion in economic stimulus in his first year and enacted sweeping health insurance reform in the second which could add as much as $500 billion to federal spending this decade (although estimates vary).

The president created a debt commission in 2010, chaired by President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff Erskine Bowles and former Republican senator Alan Simpson — whose recommendations he summarily ignored later that year.

He rejected Republican calls to reduce deficit spending as “impatient” and argued in July 2011 that he still hadn’t seen “a credible plan” from the opposition to reduce the shortfall — when his own budget was voted down unanimously in the Senate where members of his Democratic Party were, and are, in the majority.

In an interview with Time magazine in January of last year, the president said once again that he was prepared to enact major reforms to stabilize government spending. “The only reason it hasn’t happened,” he said, “is the Republicans were unwilling to do anything on revenue.”

Republicans have since voted to raise the top income tax bracket from 35 to 39.6 percent and the capital gains tax from 15 to 20 percent.

As for “a credible plan,” Republicans have now thrice introduced a budget, authored by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, that should give the president a fair assessment of what they intend to do.

So clearly, the excuses of the last four years — “give me more time” and “let the Republicans be more flexible” — were just that: excuses. The president admitted as much on Wednesday. He is not interested in deficit reduction.