Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Obama's credit downgrade speech misses the mark in too many ways

I don't actually watch or listen to any of President Barack Obama's speeches, but I do read each one of them on the White House web page.

I happen to find his speech pattern - specifically the decline/drop of his voice at the end of each sentence - particularly annoying and find that if I listen to him, I pay more attention to that pattern than to what he is actually saying. And that's not a good thing.

It's not just him - I didn't like George H.W. Bush's speech patterns either, though I seemed to enjoy listening to George W. Bush and his odd pronunciation of nuclear. Anyway - it's not a partisan thing, though my opinion about what is being said could certainly be construed as such.

Actually, I don't think my perspectives are as much 'partisan' as they are just common sense. And that goes for Pres. Obama's comments yesterday about our nation's credit downgrade.

He starts with this:

On Friday, we learned that the United States received a downgrade by one of the credit rating agencies -- not so much because they doubt our ability to pay our debt if we make good decisions, but because after witnessing a month of wrangling over raising the debt ceiling, they doubted our political system’s ability to act. The markets, on the other hand, continue to believe our credit status is AAA. In fact, Warren Buffett, who knows a thing or two about good investments, said, “If there were a quadruple-A rating, I’d give the United States that.” I, and most of the world’s investors, agree.

Actually, the downgrade wasn't just because of the wrangling. Their report actually states:

The downgrade reflects our opinion that the fiscal consolidation plan that Congress and the Administration recently agreed to falls short of what, in our view, would be necessary to stabilize the government's medium-term debt dynamics.

Hmm...so what they're saying is that 'it's the spending, stupid.' They do say that the differences between the parties contributes to their concern - not because of the fact that they disagree, but because the compromises don't yield solutions to the debt problem.

They also say:

The outlook on the long-term rating is negative. We could lower the long-term rating to 'AA' within the next two years if we see that less reduction in spending than agreed to, higher interest rates, or new fiscal pressures during the period result in a higher general government debt trajectory than we currently assume in our base case.

So they warn that continued failure to reduce spending or increased interest rates or other factors that raise the debt higher than their projections will result in further downgrades. This is a common sense conclusion and certainly predictable.

But if the President thinks the main problem is the lack of agreement by politicians, then he's starting with an incorrect premise - and that will lead to incorrect conclusions. Agreement between elected officials won't mean much if the agreement is just a panacea or something designed to give cover to incumbents without actually making the tough decisions that need to be made by a broke nation.

The President then says that the markets continue to believe we have a AAA rating. Um...not sure what 'markets' he's referring to but if he's talking about selling U.S. bonds, then I'm not sure we'd know that until the next sale. If he's talking about Wall Street, well, he's delusional.

He then says:

The fact is, we didn’t need a rating agency to tell us that we need a balanced, long-term approach to deficit reduction. That was true last week. That was true last year. That was true the day I took office.

Well, if that's the case, why didn't you do something about it already, Mr. President? In 2008, you said the need to raise the debt limit was a sign of poor leadership. But once you found yourself in the same situation you changed your mind. Your budgets have proposed increased spending and increased debt - more than the record amount you've already added. If deficit reduction has been a problem you've known about since becoming president, why haven't you done more to address it?

We knew from the outset that a prolonged debate over the debt ceiling -- a debate where the threat of default was used as a bargaining chip -- could do enormous damage to our economy and the world’s.

This is where I had to stop reading. If Pres. Obama knew - as he clearly admits - that using the threat of default as a bargaining chip could do enormous damage to our economy, why did he use it?!?

He is clearly admitting that the threat of default was a political ploy and he willingly used it in the discussions. If he knew it would do "enormous damage" and then he deliberately used it, is he admitting he intentionally caused "enormous damage" to our economy?!? Why would he say such a thing?

This is just outrageous and I cannot believe, even with the main stream media carrying water for him, that no one bothered to ask such an obvious question.

He says the problem is solvable - with his solution:

What we need to do now is combine those spending cuts with two additional steps: tax reform that will ask those who can afford it to pay their fair share and modest adjustments to health care programs like Medicare.

Again, he talks about 'those who can afford it' paying their 'fair share.' Of course, he never defines 'fair share' and it would be hard to do so since the top 1% of income tax payers already are paying 38% of the taxes.

In fact, for tax year 2008, the most recent for which I could find figures, those making more than $159,619 (significantly less than the $250,000 figure always cited by the president) pay 58.72% of the taxes.

Hmm...let's repeat that. The top 5% of wage earners (those making more than $159,619) pay more than half the taxes collected. How, exactly, is that fair?!? It's not - but it falls into the President's penchant for class warfare - and it certainly sounds good to people who are paying nothing.

And what about 'modest adjustments' to Medicare? It is the President's own party and supporters who create commercials of Republicans tossing granny off the cliff at the mere mention that perhaps maybe we could just *look* at Medicare to see what savings we might be able to *consider.*

Does anyone really think that this President is going to propose any concrete changes to Medicare - or that Democrats and/or Republicans in Congress are going to pass them? He knows there isn't the political will for such things - and he even says so.

So it’s not a lack of plans or policies that’s the problem here. It’s a lack of political will in Washington. It’s the insistence on drawing lines in the sand, a refusal to put what’s best for the country ahead of self-interest or party or ideology. And that’s what we need to change.

The problem is that he is the one doing exactly what he's criticizing. He's the one drawing lines in the sand saying that tax increases have to be a part of the deal. But he never actually presented a plan to be voted up or down. And the lack of transparency on this and other items is the butt of jokes - even from liberals.

But don't fear - he has a plan:

I intend to present my own recommendations over the coming weeks on how we should proceed.

I guess I'm wondering why he doesn't already have his recommendations ready?

And the good news here is that by coming together to deal with the long-term debt challenge, we would have more room to implement key proposals that can get the economy to grow faster. Specifically, we should extend the payroll tax cut as soon as possible, so that workers have more money in their paychecks next year and businesses have more customers next year.

This I just don't get. He and his fellow Democrats say the problem isn't the spending - it's that the government isn't collecting enough 'revenue' (meaning taxes). And yet, he wants to continue a tax cut. Now, I happen to believe that lowering taxes is a good thing for an economy, but the President can't have it both ways. He can't say he needs more revenue while at the same time saying he wants to lower payroll taxes. The positions are contradictory and in conflict.

But the worst part about this is that idea doesn't do what it's intended. Tax rebates do not stimulate the economy because people usually save the money - especially in down economic times. Unlike the government, they don't go out and spend it just because they have it.

And a consideration which seems to elude this president, his administration and members of Congress is that even if there is a slight uptick in economic activity as a result, companies are not going to hire new people or build additional plants just because of a one-time boost.

We should continue to make sure that if you’re one of the millions of Americans who’s out there looking for a job, you can get the unemployment insurance that your tax dollars contributed to. That will also put money in people’s pockets and more customers in stores.

Here he is continuing in a failed program - extensions of unemployment payments have not done anything to 'stimulate' the economy. Too many individuals are getting more from unemployment than they can earn (in today's economy) by working. So they are staying on unemployment instead of accepting a position. This is clearly not all individuals, but there are a significant number of anecdotal reports (and I know several people personally) that lead me to believe the number is higher than most might want to admit.

Additionally, since the federal government is borrowing money to hand out to people in unemployment extensions, etc..., the long-term cost of the short-term benefit is extremely high and much more detrimental to the nation than any blip the economy might see from the temporary extension he's suggesting.

We should also help companies that want to repair our roads and bridges and airports, so that thousands of construction workers who’ve been without a job for the last few years can get a paycheck again. That will also help to spur economic growth.

Here we go again with the failed 'stimulus' thinking. It didn't work the first time around and, in fact, the administration's own numbers show that the economy would have been better off without it, as this quote demonstrates:

"According to this study, the unemployment rate with the stimulus plan in the third quarter of 2011 was supposed to be 6.5 percent, instead of the current 9.1 percent. Doing nothing would have yielded 7.7 percent unemployment. Even by their own economic estimates, doing nothing would have been better for America than what the Democrats did."

And if infrastructure spending is such a good idea for a stimulus, why did only 3% of the last stimulus go to such projects?!? Remember those shovel-ready jobs? Even the President admitted they weren't as 'shovel-ready' as he expected, as Jonah Goldberg explains:

After all, Obama has pretty much said the same thing several times. In a New York Times Magazine profile last October, the president admitted he had to learn the hard way that there’s “no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”

This is a staggering indictment of the president, the team he assembled, and the journalists who accepted this administration’s arrogant assertions that they knew exactly what to do, how to do it, and what would happen as a result.

So what makes him think this time around will be any different? The President is being stupid - and insane. You all know the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Another stimulus plan, which is what he's talking about, fits that definition.

These aren’t Democratic proposals. These aren’t big government proposals. These are all ideas that traditionally Republicans have agreed to, have agreed to countless times in the past. There’s no reason we shouldn’t act on them now. None.

Here he is definitely wrong. While I will agree that Republicans and Democrats have supported such ideas in the past, they are clearly a big-government proposal. They are based upon the idea that government is better at spending money than the private sector. They *assume* that government taking taxes out of the economy and spending those dollars on specific projects will have a higher return on investment than leaving in the economy in the first place. They are from the concept that more government spending (and borrowing or taxing to pay for the spending) is a viable substitute for market activity.

It didn't work in the New Deal, it didn't work in the last stimulus and it won't work now. And just in case you doubt me on this - just look at Greece.

The President did try to be reassuring. Reading the words, I'm not sure he was successful in this. But even in his reassuring/rallying call to the American people, he fails to grasp a basic understanding of the majority of this country - and the principles on which this nation was founded; principles which made us so great to begin with.

First, he continually calls us a 'democracy.' We're not a democracy, we're a republic - and there is a significant difference between the two (look it up if you don't already know). That he constantly gets this wrong concerns me. Then he says:

The American people have been through so much over the last few years, dealing with the worst recession, the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s, and they’ve done it with grace. And they’re working so hard to raise their families, and all they ask is that we work just as hard, here in this town, to make their lives a little easier. That’s not too much to ask.

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

The American people don't want government to make our lives easier - we want government to leave us the hell alone! My life would be so much easier if I didn't have government thinking it knows better then me how to spend my money, what kind of car to purchase, how many miles per gallon I should get from that car, how many gallons of water my toilet can use to flush, what kind of light bulbs I can purchase, what kind of washing machine I can buy, what the energy efficiency on my refrigerator needs to be, what kind of food I can eat or what kinds of warnings companies must put on their food packaging when I have the temerity to eat stuff the government has decided is 'bad' for me, and on and on and on.

Most people don't get up in the morning and wonder, 'how can government make my life easier?" They usually wake up and just hope and pray government won't find some new way to intrude.

This is clearly a conservative vs. liberal perspective, though not necessarily a Republican vs. Democrat one. Maybe there are some liberals out there who think the proper of role of government is to make their lives easier. That might explain a lot of things. But that is clearly not what our founders were looking for when they left British rule and established these colonies and then an independent nation. In fact, it's just the opposite.

How does a president of the United States get something so completely wrong?

The Washington Times has a great editorial on the speech which hits on a couple of points I don't. And I think, considering their conclusion, I'll leave you with it:

The president refuses to admit that he is part of the problem. “There will always be economic factors that we can’t control,” he said. “Earthquakes, spikes in oil prices, slowdowns in other parts of the world,” seemingly arguing that these factors have something to do with the current crisis, which they do not. He chose not to mention his limitless appetite for spreading around borrowed money. Federal non-defense spending as a percentage of gross domestic product averaged 15.6 percent from 1975 to the advent of the Obama presidency. Since then it has zoomed to an average of 19.6 percent and is headed up. Even the prospective future budget “cuts” in the debt ceiling agreement still institutionalize $7 trillion in spending beyond the government’s means over the next ten years. This is the problem, not earthquakes.

Mr. Obama said he had great faith in the country, but he has a funny way of showing it. In justifying the U.S. credit rating downgrade Standard and Poor’s Managing Director John Chambers quoted Mr. Obama saying that the U.S. political system was “dysfunctional.” Who would invest in a corporation whose chief executive describes the company’s management in such terms? Never fear, Mr. Obama said Americans have always risen to the challenge with entrepreneurship, innovation and hard work. Given Mr. Obama’s insistence on increasing the number of costly government regulation, his blame-the-rich approach to economics, and burdensome, job-killing health care plan, no president has done more damage to this spirit of enterprise. Mr. Obama said that “this is the United States of America… We always have been and always will be a Triple-A country.” If only we had a Triple-A leader.

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