(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The great debate in America is not about the “fiscal cliff” or the “debt ceiling” or the “sequester” or whatever other fantasy pops into Paul Ryan’s head when he’s not reading Ayn Rand.
The great debate in America is between austerity and growth.
And Tuesday’s State of the Union address is the right moment for President Obama to make a clean break with the austerity lie in combination with a firm embrace of the growth agenda that is needed.
Bill Clinton, who has emerged as something of an economic “explainer-in-chief” for the Obama administration, proposed as much in an address last week to congressional Democrats. “The debt problem can’t be solved right now by conventional austerity measures,” said the former president, who reminded his attentive listeners that “everybody that’s tried austerity in a time of no growth has wound up cutting revenues even more than they cut spending because you just get into the downward spiral and drag the country back into recession.”
Clinton is right. But he has only provided the president with the talking point. Obama will need more than that to counter the determined campaign of Ryan and the Republicans—along with the “Fix the Debt” astroturf scam promoted by free-spending CEOs—to advance their austerity agenda as part the of coming sequester and debt-ceiling debates. Ryan and the Republican proponents of austerity are for making deep cuts in order to balance budgets at any cost—except, of course, taxing their wealthy campaign donors. As such, they are more than ready to render cherished programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as vital services such as the Post Office, so dysfunctional that Americans will start thinking the unthinkable: that these programs should be privatized.
Unfortunately, austerity doesn’t work. Clinton says so. The Congressional Budget Office says so. Both The Economist and the Financial Times—not exactly left-wing rags—say so. Indeed, The Economist and the Financial Times decry European austerity schemes that have created high unemployment and economic instability. So it is appealing to suggest that Obama need only say “no” Tuesday tonight.