Critics of the Bush Administration often complained (especially during his first term) that Bush used 9/11 as a justification for nearly everything he did. Given that the country was widely supportive of the administration in the years right after the attack, this was (the complaint went) a way for Bush to do things he’d wanted to do anyway under the guise of responding to an emergency. While I think this complaint was overstated, there is an element of truth to it. For instance, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of question that many within the administration (rightly or wrongly) wanted to get rid of the Baathist regime in Iraq even prior to taking office.
In this respect, Obama seems to have found his 9/11, his excuse for doing all the things he and his party want to do while assuring everyone it would be a Very Bad Idea it not Downright Unpatriotic for them to disagree. Obama’s 9/11 is the recession, or as the media seems to have named it “The Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression”. (This is, to my mind, a rather unwieldy name. Perhaps we could just call it the “Big Recession” or the “Little Depression”?)
Thus, in his presentation of a new budget which is heavy on partisan measures (big tax increases on “the rich” and preparation for major changes in social service structure and spending) and racks up the largest deficit (as percentage of GDP) since 1942, Obama assured people that this was necessary in order to restore the economy:
“This crisis is neither the result of a normal turn of the business cycle nor an accident of history,” the president states in an opening message of the 134-page document. “We arrived at this point as a result of an era of profound irresponsibility that engulfed both private and public institutions from some of our largest companies’ executive suites to the seats of power in Washington, D.C.”
So basically, you can either sign on to Obama’s budget, or you’re just continuing the profound irresponsibility of the past. This may be good power politics, but I hope that congress takes some very serious consideration over this:
That’s right, this budget openly projects running deficits far in excess of any of Bush’s throughout the entire Obama presidency. Given that administrations invariably cook the books to make them look better than they’d actually be (and in that vein Obama makes some very optimistic assumptions about how soon growth rates will be large again and how much that will feed into his increased tax levels) this is worrying in the extreme. Unquestionably, we should expect lower tax collections in coming years due to businesses and individuals making less or taking losses, and we should count on spending more than usual on safety net programs to help those suffering because of the economic downturn, so we should be expecting some deficits. But this raft of new spending combined with highly punitive taxation is something that is not remotely called for by the downturn, rather it’s a blatant attempt to use the economic situation to force people into line to accept policy provisions which (in more stable times) have been repeatedly rejected by the American people. Whether people wake up and recognize this before we add a few trillion more to our debt is another question.
To be fair, the budget does have a few points that ought to be applauded. Obama takes on some of the farm subsidies which have always been an embarrassment (mostly giving money to large agricultural businesses, not small farmers) and doubly so as agriculture has boomed and become incredibly profitable over the last few years. But others are particularly devious. For instance, while he makes much of his “Making Work Pay” tax cut/credit, the president balances this with money he expects to make through a cap-and-trade system which will steadily increase gas and power costs for all Americans — which as we know from the past year’s experience leads to higher food prices and a number of other highly regressive costs that hit the poorest hardest. Don’t expect anyone to admit this as it happens, though. I would imagine that in order to deflect blame there will be even greater fusses made about “Big Oil’s greed” as prices rise. (And lest any oil companies should be tempted to absorb the carbon tax, their taxes are raised and numerous “tax loopholes” for the energy industry are removed.)
We can probably expect the administration to keep using the “the economy and the correction of past irresponsibility require this” line as long as it works for them. How long that is will depend on the gullibility of the public and how successful the opposition is in explaining to people what this budget really is.