Yesterday afternoon, I was fortunate to attend a roundtable discussion at the White House with Obama strategist David Axelrod and a small group of left-leaning reporters and bloggers. A day after the State of the Union Address, Axelrod offered few specifics of how the president planned to move forward on his call for new investments in technology, education and infrastructure alongside a five-year domestic spending freeze, but signaled there could be a major showdown with Congressional Republicans over how to fund the federal government in a few weeks, perhaps reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s clash with Newt Gingrich in 1995. (You can read the whole transcript over at Daily Kos).
While indicating that Obama will focus on cutting the deficit “in a responsible way” in the coming years, Axelrod also stressed that the president would not wholeheartedly embrace the rigid austerity politics currently being pushed by the GOP. “Dealing with spending is part of the equation, but it’s not the only part of the equation,” Axelrod said from the Roosevelt room. “And reducing the debt and dealing with spending is not in and of itself a growth strategy. And that’s where we may maybe have a philosophical difference [with Republicans].”
The president doesn’t believe that it is enough simply to cut the budget or reduce the debt or reduce the size of government. In the world in which we live, if we do that and don’t educate our citizens and lead the world in that; if we don’t innovate; if we don’t have kind of basic infrastructure that we need to be competitive, then we’re not going to prevail.
And so as we cut, we’ve got to do it in a responsible way and make sure that we’re not cutting those very things that are going to allow us to continue to be a dominant economic force and create opportunity for our people.
Axelrod seemed confident that a debate over these differing approaches to the coming budget, which will be released in mid-February, would work to the administration’s advantage.
Part of what the President did last night and what he’s doing today in Wisconsin and what he’ll continue to do relentlessly is make the case for this growth agenda, for this strategy, to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the world.
And hopefully there will be public pressure and support on Democrats and Republicans to support this strategy. If you don’t support this strategy, then the question is what is your strategy? What is your strategy for growth?
I think people are going to be asking that question. And we have an answer.
And presumably Congress is going to then turn their cards over and say how they would do it differently. And we can have a discussion, the American people can participate in that discussion, as to the priorities.
You can’t just swirl around in the land of the theoretical forever.
Beyond the budget, Axelrod promised that Social Security privatization, of the kind proposed by Wisconsin GOP Rep. Paul Ryan, was a “non-starter,” though he did not unequivocally rule out future cuts to the program.
In the long term there are issues on the horizon relative to Social Security. Among younger Americans, there’s a profound suspicion that Social Security isn’t even going to be there. And among older Americans, there’s a great deal of anxiety about tampering with it.