Republicans Fall into Obama’s Budget Trap

Republicans Fall into Obama's Budget TrapIn his speech on Wednesday, the President closed the trap that he laid for Republicans in 2012. It was, in terms of sheer gamesmanship, a master stroke. And, best of all, neither Representatives Paul Ryan, or Eric Cantor, nor any of the legion of dutiful GOP shock troops, nor any of the leading Republican Presidential candidates has any idea that they have been ensnared by Obama.

The trap was really sprung when Paul Ryan, through some combination of naivete and hubris, actually laid out his budget plan last week. I suppose we should applaud Ryan for his honesty – he wants to give hundreds of billions of dollars to the wealthiest Americans while slashing away at Medicare and Medicaid, and he makes no no attempt to hide his priorities.

These are the sorts of ideas that Republicans in years past didn’t talk about so explicitly – at least not in mixed company. Tax cuts for the rich were paired with middle-class cuts – thus hiding the out and out class warfare behind a polite facade. And in 2010 Congressional Republicans ran as the protectors of Medicare. But now it is 2011 and the mask has slipped from their face. Trying to ride the Tea Party tiger has led Congressional Republicans to put out there for all to see what their priorities are – handouts for the rich and a kick in the teeth for everyone else.

Conservative writer David Frum agrees that Republicans have given Obama exactly what he wanted,

Here’s a basic fact of American politics. The American people like Medicare. They are not so enthusiastic about tax cuts for the rich.

Those of us on the political right have different preferences. We believe that low rates for high earners accelerate economic growth. We believe that the cost of Medicare must be restrained. And I think we have a lot of good arguments on our side.

But we must never deceive ourselves: We are arguing for policies with a lot of political negatives attached to them. Which means we have to take some basic political precautions.

In the current Republican mood, however, precautions are for girlie-men. Republicans have succumbed to a strange mood of simultaneous euphoria and paranoia. Republicans have convinced themselves both that: (1) American freedom stands in imminent danger of disappearing into totalitarian night; and (2) that the vast majority of the great and good American people are yearning for a mighty rollback of big government, even at considerable personal sacrifice.

And so Republicans have united around Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) proposal that for the first time in modern conservative history explicitly joins a big tax cut for the rich to big cuts in health care spending for virtually everybody else.

The Ryan plan has presented an opportunity for Obama to debate openly with Republicans about our national priorities. There are now actual contrasting proposals to debate. On the one hand the President wants to raise taxes on the wealthy, trim the defense budget and protect Medicare and Medicaid. On the other hand Republicans want more tax cuts for the rich and the dismantling of two very popular programs (among the other burden shifting to the proles that are found in the Ryan plan).

Obama and every Democrat in the country relishes the opportunity to publicly debate these issues. The Obama plan is right on the economics and right on the politics.

And with the dearth of viable GOP Presidential candidates and the subsequent void that has been created, the Ryan plan has just boxed in every GOP candidate from now until November 2012. The candidates themselves will not get to define their positions on spending, taxes and social programs. Rather they will be asked to either endorse the Ryan plan, which will be wildly unpopular with the general public, or reject the Ryan plan, which will be wildly unpopular with the increasingly delusional GOP base.

If Republicans had merely waited for the President to go first they could have avoided this obvious trap. But their arrogance led them to over-reach and to put their wildly unpopular and transparently plutocratic vision out there for the whole nation to see.

T.R. Donoghue is an attorney living in Denver, Colorado where he works on labor and employment issues. T.R. has worked extensively in public policy and politics and on both state and national campaign more


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