Here is good gauge of the cluelessness and disarray of the Democratic Party’s present leadership in Congress and the White House.
Over the weekend, the president and Senate Majority leader Harry Reid congratulated everyone in sight on the just-concluded budget deal. Meanwhile, also over the weekend, former House speaker – now House minority leader – Nancy Pelosi, frustrated at the just announced House-Republican-driven cuts in spending, told a Tufts University audience that “elections shouldn’t matter as much as they do.”
But, as The Financial Times reported yesterday, “In an unusually stern rebuke to its largest shareholder, the [International Monetary Fund] said the US… lacks a ‘credible strategy to stabilize its mounting public debt….” (see http://tiny.cc/i473q)
The president and Senator Reid were, of course, trying to put the best face they could on bowing to November’s voter repudiation of their spending policies over the prior two years. And Mrs. Pelosi, who had been cut out from a meaningful role in the budget talks, was speaking not just for House Democrats, but for the just barely democratic Democratic left. And yet, as the IMF report noted, last weekend’s budget deal was hardly even a start.
Today the president will try to get ahead of the voter-demanded, John-Boehner-led spending cut parade. A week ago the president was ready to block any addressing of the nation’s fiscal catastrophe to maintain appropriations for an abortion provider. It was as if to say all he and his party stand for any more is the termination of pregnancies. Tonight he will be Mr. Deficit Hawk.
What is going on?
In last week’s column, I noted that pollster Kellyanne Conway, president of The Polling Company, had sent me data showing that women were among those who swung to the GOP last year, particularly married women. They didn’t like the bailouts, or the stimulus, or the healthcare overhaul. In short, they didn’t like the spending of the president and his allies in Congress. But they also didn’t like Washington’s partisan rancor.
Much has been made of the 2010 move of Independents from the Democrats. But from the White House’s perspective, Ms. Conway’s analysis is more like Karl Rove’s during the Bush years. From the Democrats point of view, she is talking about base voters.
The White House would surely have preferred to see the recent budget talks fail and Federal spending continue to increase. That is what the unions and others among their leftist backers wanted. But to square no cuts with the demands of women, they had to pin the blame on an obstructionist GOP. This desperation to win back the female vote is why the president chose to battle on Panned Parenthood ground. But it is undoubtedly also why he endorsed a budget deal in the end. His polling surely showed that women were not buying that GOP “extremism” would be why budget cutting failed.
Washington’s question now is, are we at the end of the decades long national budget game?
The current rules of the game were laid down in the Reagan presidency. Beginning in the 1980s, the GOP became the party of tax rate cuts as well as lower spending. The Democrats wanted to raise both. The compromise became that tax rates went down, but not as much as Republicans wanted. Spending went up, but not as much as the Democrats sought.
When President Bush 41 seemed to let go of the tax wheel, his 1992 defeat was assured. When President Bush 43 seemed to let go of the spending wheel, post-2004 GOP voters moved away from him. Last week, for the first time since President Clinton signed, after two vetoes, welfare reform legislation, a Democratic president broke from his party’s ever-larger-spending agenda. Will it continue?
The answer is almost certainly to some extent — but not enough to satisfy the global financial markets or the IMF. How about American voters, particularly women?
Today the president will try to keep up what is left of the old game. He will call for some cuts in spending, but not nearly as much as House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has called for. He will try to load as much of his plan’s dollars as possible into higher taxes. But high tax rates are bound to strangle an entrepreneurial nation in a competitive global economy. So chances are the Democrats will end up folding in the tax game. And, as many have noted, the spending game is now a matter of how much, not if.
The major issue has become this: Will divided government make sufficiently big cuts in the deficits this year and next? Or will we have to wait for a Republican Senate and a Republican White House? Put another way, regarding the president, how clueless is he?
Today’s speech will give a clue.