I wasn't too impressed by Obama's debt speech yesterday, but I thought he got two things right: First, mounting long-term debt is a serious problem. Second, the debt problem can't be solved simply by cutting waste, fraud, and abuse or unpopular but relatively tiny expenditures like foreign aid. The American public has a lot of fundamental misconceptions about the budget, and they need to hear this sort of thing from the president regularly.
But the president's proposed solutions weren't up to the size of the problem he described. Indeed, as Clive Crook, who is no fan of Rep. Paul Ryan's GOP budget plan, argues, it's not entirely clear what specific solutions he supports at all.
My instant unguarded reaction, in fact, was to find it not just weak but pitiful. I honestly wondered why he bothered.
There was no sign of anything worth calling a plan to curb borrowing faster than in the budget. He offered no more than a list of headings under which $4 trillion of deficit reduction (including the $2 trillion already in his budget) might be found—domestic non-security spending, defense, health costs, and tax reform. Fine, sure. But what he said was devoid of detail. He spent more of his time stressing what he would not agree to than describing clear proposals of his own.
His rebuttal of the Ryan plan was all very well—I agree it's no good—but the administration still lacks a rival plan. That, surely, is what this speech had to provide, or at least point to, if it was going to be worth giving in the first place. His criticisms of Ryan and the Republicans need no restating. And did the country need another defense of public investment in clean energy and the American social contract? It wanted to be told how fiscal policy is going to be mended: if not by the Ryan plan, with its many grave defects, then how?
...The speech was more notable for its militant—though ineffectual—hostility to Republican proposals than for any fresh thinking of its own. It was a waste of breath.
Given the nation's debt trajectory, refusing to course correct is not an option.
My take on the speech here.