In his inaugural address, President Obama sought to reframe the conception of government in America, breaking from the philosophy of both Bill Clinton (“the era of big government is over”) and Ronald Reagan (“government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”).
"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified,” Obama said. The president spent much of the first two years of his presidency pushing ambitious programs that would level the playing field in our society—the stimulus bill, healthcare and financial reform, equal pay for women.
But since the 2010 election, Obama has largely abandoned his argument about the constructive role government can and should play in American society. The entire debate since then has been on the GOP’s terms—first came freezes for discretionary spending and federal pay by the Obama administration, followed by a temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts, a budget plan for 2011 that included significant cuts to core Democratic programs, and a budget agreement last week that cut billions of dollars more at the expense of middle-class and low-income Americans.
So after months of feebly compromising with the GOP, it was refreshing to hear Obama blast the budget proposal unveiled by House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan last week in unusually blunt and forthright language.
Here’s the key section of the speech:
One vision has been championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives and embraced by several of their party’s presidential candidates. It’s a plan that aims to reduce our deficit by $4 trillion over the next ten years, and one that addresses the challenge of Medicare and Medicaid in the years after that.
Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.
A 70% cut to clean energy. A 25% cut in education. A 30% cut in transportation. Cuts in college Pell Grants that will grow to more than $1,000 per year. That’s what they’re proposing. These aren’t the kind of cuts you make when you’re trying to get rid of some waste or find extra savings in the budget. These aren’t the kind of cuts that Republicans and Democrats on the Fiscal Commission proposed. These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in. And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic.
It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t afford to send them. Go to China and you’ll see businesses opening research labs and solar facilities. South Korean children are outpacing our kids in math and science. Brazil is investing billions in new infrastructure and can run half their cars not on high-priced gasoline, but biofuels. And yet, we are presented with a vision that says the United States of America—the greatest nation on Earth—can’t afford any of this.