Obama got feisty in his deficit speech this afternoon.
The president, who has been blasted by progressives for capitulating to the Republicans on both the lame-duck tax cuts and last week's deal to avoid a government shutdown, today drew five clear lines in the sand:
- I will not sacrifice the core investments we need to grow and create jobs. We’ll invest in medical research and clean energy technology. We’ll invest in new roads and airports and broadband access. We will invest in education and job training.
- [Republicans] want to give people like me a $200,000 tax cut that’s paid for by asking 33 seniors to each pay $6,000 more in health costs? That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m President.
- I will not allow Medicare to become a voucher program that leaves seniors at the mercy of the insurance industry, with a shrinking benefit to pay for rising costs.
- I will not tell families with children who have disabilities that they have to fend for themselves. We will reform [Medicaid], but we will not abandon the fundamental commitment this country has kept for generations.
- We cannot afford $1 trillion worth of tax cuts for every millionaire and billionaire in our society. And I refuse to renew them again.
Obama added what may be the staunchest defense of liberalism that we've heard from him since the 2008 campaign. He defended the safety net not as a collection of "entitlements" but as a social contract vital to our national character.
Part of this American belief that we are all connected also expresses itself in a conviction that each one of us deserves some basic measure of security. So we contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which guarantee us health care and a measure of basic income after a lifetime of hard work; unemployment insurance, which protects us against unexpected job loss; and Medicaid, which provides care for millions of seniors in nursing homes, poor children, and those with disabilities. We are a better country because of these commitments. I’ll go further – we would not be a great country without those commitments.
The bright lines that Obama drew this afternoon — "their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America" — will not only shape the contours of the coming budget battles. Inescapably, this was also the first major speech of the president's 2012 reelection campaign.