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Cut,tax and invest

If Obama goes big and dares to lead,he will win — and so will the United States

Written by New York Times | Published: April 13, 2012 3:57 am

If Obama goes big and dares to lead,he will win — and so will the United States

Last week,Politico reported that since announcing his re-election bid,President Barack Obama’s campaign has been struggling to find a slogan to sum up his reason for running. He’s cycled through “Winning the Future,” “We Can’t Wait,” “An America Built to Last,” “A Fair Shot.” So far,the most accurate slogan for Obama’s campaign would have to be: “I’m not Mitt Romney.” And when you consider that Romney — a former liberal Republican governor — has spent the whole campaign disavowing his past,for the first time in history both candidates could legitimately run on the same slogan: “I’m not Mitt Romney.”

And that’s our problem. Romney has embraced the Republican budget drawn up by Rep. Paul Ryan that proposes to shrink our long-term structural deficit in a way that not only would make the rich richer and the poor poorer,but would deprive the country of the very discretionary spending required to do what we need most: nation-building at home.

What do we need from a presidential candidate today? We need a credible plan to do three specific things: cut,tax and invest. As the economy improves,we need to cut spending,including all entitlement programs,to fix our long-term structural deficit. We also need to raise revenue through tax reform so we don’t shred our safety nets and so we still have resources,not only for defence,but to invest in all the things that have made us great as a country: education,infrastructure,quality government institutions and government-funded research. Finally,the plan has to win bipartisan support,so the candidate advocating it not only wins the election but has a mandate to implement his plan afterward.

The Ryan-Romney budget fails that test. As Maya MacGuineas,the president of the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget,notes: It does not “protect the truly disadvantaged,” and it doesn’t put tax increases for the wealthy “on the table,” so it has zero chance of bipartisan support.

Obama has proposed his own 10-year budget. It is better than Ryan’s at balancing our near-term need to revitalise the pillars of American success,by cutting,taxing and investing. But it does not credibly address the country’s long-term fiscal imbalances,which require cuts in Medicare and Social Security.

So the president,too,lacks a long-term plan to cut,spend and invest at the scale we need in a way to win enough bipartisan support to make it implementable. This gets to my core difference with the president’s strategy. He should have accepted his own Simpson-Bowles deficit commission because it offered a plan to cut and tax that was at the scale of the problem and enjoyed at least some GOP support,had the overwhelming backing of independents and even Nancy Pelosi,the minority leader,says she felt “fully ready to vote for that.”

If Obama had embraced the long-term deficit commission,he would have had a chance of combining it with some near-term stimulus — investments in infrastructure — that would have helped the economy and grown jobs. Without pairing it with Simpson-Bowles,Obama had no chance of getting more stimulus.

Obama says his plan incorporates the best of Simpson-Bowles. Not only is that not true,but it misses the politics. Republicans will never vote for an “Obama plan.” But had Obama embraced the bipartisan “Simpson-Bowles,” and added his own stimulus,he would have split the GOP,attracted independents,and been able to honestly look the country in the eye and say he had a plan to fix what needs fixing. Instead,Obama is running on a sub-optimal plan — when we must have optimal — and the slogan “I’m not Mitt Romney.” If he’s lucky,he might win by a whisker. If Obama went big,and dared to lead,he’d win for sure,and so would the country,because he’d have a mandate to do what needs doing.

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