By Judd Gregg - 11/21/11 10:15 AM EST
The president was in Hawaii while the supercommittee hit stall speed. What is new about this? Very little.
Throughout his term, President Obama has avoided leading on the issue of fiscal responsibility. He walked away from his own commission, the one led by former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) and former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, when he found its report filled with inconvenient choices.
Now in a week when leadership is needed to push this critical committee to do something big and bring the nation’s fiscal house back into order, the president once again disappears. It causes one to wonder, why?
Like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), he sees no real need to move in this direction. After all, any significant action would require fixing Social Security; overhauling taxes; returning to healthcare reform, especially as it affects Medicare and Medicaid; and, most importantly, agreeing not just to slow growth of the federal government but in fact to reduce it.
There is no great concern at the White House that our government is getting too large. They look at Europe — where governments routinely absorb 30 percent to 40 percent of the economy — and believe we can certainly have the same, especially considering that higher taxes will inevitably follow such a growth, maybe even a value-added tax. As far as the White House is concerned, the taxing potential of our nation has miles to go.
So why would you wish to rein in the growth of the federal government — and power that comes with that growth — if you wish to pursue social justice agendas?
This idea of expanded government meshes perfectly with the message of class warfare that has been chosen as the course to reelection for Obama and his minions in Congress. After all, the only effective way to deal with class envy and create a truly divided nation is to take from those who are deemed to have too much and redistribute that take. And who better to choose how to redistribute than the elite of the left, who have flocked to the battlements of expanding government, demanding permission to choose the winners and losers in our society?
It might be an old and tired idea that has not done much to create general prosperity, but it has always done a lot to empower the few to tell the many how to live their lives. It concentrates power, which is, of course, what growing government is mostly about.
The irony at this time is that while the president does not lead he might be missing his best chance at reelection.
It is reasonably clear that the American people are tired of a Congress that does not work and a president who does not lead. They expect more from the people they elect. Even in Italy, the governing class seems to have gotten the message that it is time to act and that the march toward large debt through expanded and unaffordable government is not politically acceptable. It is difficult to believe we might need to turn to the Italians for ideas on how to govern, but without presidential leadership we seem to have come to that point.
The advantages to the president of visibly trying to move this process to a major agreement that would restore some confidence in our nation’s fiscal future are tremendous.
Second, it would eliminate one of the most effective charges Republicans can make against the president and his allies, which is that he has significantly aggravated the nation’s fiscal problems through profligate spending.
Third, it would show Obama as a leader, rather than a person who seemingly got a job he was not ready to do. Americans like leaders. Class warfare has never been a majority position in our country — the American dream is not based on envy but on the belief that as a nation we are capable of taking on and solving problems, usually in a united manner.
It might be a nice change of pace to see a little leadership from the president, even if it means he has to put aside his desire to see the government grow long enough to help himself get reelected and help Americans feel good about their government again.
Judd Gregg is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Foreign Operations. He also is an international adviser to Goldman Sachs.