If President Obama is emulating some sports figure in his approach to dealing with the nation’s horrendous debt crisis, it is undoubtedly Ray Guy. Bart Starr would take charge. He would play offense and try to use superior teamwork and an effective game plan to prevail over the opposition. Johnny Unitas would throw deep, consequences be damned, and wow the public with his willingness to take chances in order to succeed.
The president seems to prefer being a punter. A quarterback needs a good game plan and the vision to execute it. A middle linebacker needs to get his other 10 teammates in the right spots and react quickly to whatever is coming his way. A punter keeps opposing teams away from his goal line but rarely helps his team to cross the goal line.
In the aftermath of the November 2 Congressional election rout by the Republicans, President Obama has had the opportunity to seize the initiative and implement his own game plan for responding to the voters’ demands for less spending and significant deficit reduction. But, after enjoying wide majorities in the House and Senate during his first two years in office, the president now finds it tough to go on offense. The GOP has a strong majority in the House and would likely kill any plan that doesn’t seriously reduce spending or that relies significantly on tax increases. Playing defense isn’t much of an option either. The Democrats only enjoy a three-seat advantage in the Senate and have 23 Senators—including several from “red” states—who are up for re-election next year. With his offense in question and his defense in doubt, the president seems to be electing to punt.
His first punt came during his State of the Union address when addressing the soaring deficit was, at best, an afterthought. The next punt came when he submitted his budget for 2012, which was so milquetoast that even members of his own party didn’t take it seriously. The third punt was his speech on April 13 when he talked in concepts—with nothing released in writing—about his approach to deficit reduction. Most of his remarks were geared toward attacking the House Republican proposal put forth by Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee. It was a harsh, partisan response, the kind usually delivered by an underling, not the President of the United States. President Obama would undoubtedly have preferred not to say anything, but Ryan’s plan forced a response from him.
The Ryan proposal certainly has generated its share of criticism. It cuts trillions from current levels of spending and redefines how Medicare and Medicaid would be delivered in the future. But it is spelled out in a decent amount of detail. It is time for the Obama administration to respond, not with rhetoric and budget gimmicks, but with a detailed accounting of how it plans to stop the fiscal train wreck of runaway debt that is debasing our currency and clouding the fiscal future of generations to come.
Punting isn’t an option.
by Dan Juneau, President and CEO of Louisiana Association of Business and Industry