Obama, the G.O.P. and the Budget Cuts

John Boehner

In “The President Is Missing” (column, April 11), Paul Krugman said that, arguably, all President Obama has left to counter his political opponents is the bully pulpit. But what a powerful pulpit it is for a determined president, such as Teddy Roosevelt, to use.

Rather than make statements that, as Mr. Krugman said, “reinforce his enemies’ narrative” on deficit reduction, the president should take a stand with the preponderance of American economists against the popular wisdom that large spending cuts must be made immediately. Those economists say that, although the debt must be reduced in the long term, making drastic cuts now will hold back the recovery and put many more people out of work. What is needed in the short term is added stimulus to promote job growth.

Taking such a stand against the conservative tide would take courage. But it would mark President Obama as a man who has developed a strong economic policy of his own, a man eager to use his bully pulpit to promote that policy and explain to the voters why it is right.

Exeter, N.H., April 11, 2011

To the Editor:

Paul Krugman’s column about President Obama’s caving in to Republicans on budget cuts does not go far enough, though it is accurate in depicting Mr. Obama as missing a chance to distinguish himself as a man of the people. The House budget proposal presented by Representative Paul D. Ryan last week would largely privatize Medicare and make major cuts to Medicaid, while at the same time cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy.

It is clear, as Mr. Krugman says, that this could be a great political opportunity for leadership. But President Obama, concerned only about winning back independents, races up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to tout Friday’s last-minute budget deal to keep the government from shutting down.

Our president is not just missing — he has gone over to the other side.

Smithfield, R.I., April 11, 2011

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof (“Why Pay Congress?,” column, April 7) succinctly summarizes mainstream economic theory about deficits, recessions and priorities. First, spend and borrow your way out of a recession, even if it deepens the deficit, and only then tackle the structural basis of long-term deficits.

But House Republicans persist in seeking mammoth immediate budget cuts, repeating, as Mr. Kristof warns, the mistakes of Herbert Hoover that led to the Great Depression, and, more recently, of Japan’s leaders in the 1990s, which led to that nation’s “lost decade.”

And on Friday, after the last-minute budget deal, Speaker John A. Boehner said Republicans fought “to keep government spending down because it really will in fact help create a better environment for job creators in our country.”

There is no way that can be true; it is utter economic nonsense. But House Republicans keep repeating things that just aren’t so, as if repetition would make what is wrong acceptable. They are wrong on economic theory, wrong on what creates jobs, wrong to ignore history, wrong not to include revenue increases (we are one of the most lightly taxed advanced nations in the world, which is assuredly a large part of our problems), and wrong to hurt so many people as their policies, if enacted, undoubtedly would. 

Brooklyn, April 9, 2011

To the Editor:

Many of today’s most fervent deficit hawks discovered their concerns about a deficit crisis only after the election of President Obama. In fact, during the Bush administration many of them, including Representative Paul D. Ryan and Speaker John A. Boehner, supported major contributors to the deficit, including tax cuts during two wars, the 2006 Medicare drug benefit and the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

When Treasury Secretary Paul H. O’Neill warned of a growing deficit in 2002, and Dick Cheney responded that “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter,” I don’t recall that any of these gentlemen saw fit to challenge him.

Charlestown, Mass., April 8, 2011

To the Editor:

Re “Budgeting for Opportunity,” by Ross Douthat (column, April 11): How could people really concerned with upward mobility and a general economic prosperity seriously pursue these ends by lowering marginal tax rates? It can’t be done. The Bush years proved that.

By proposing what amounts to a continuation of the Bush policies, Representative Paul D. Ryan and other Republican leaders prove that they aren’t really interested in general prosperity and upward mobility. The modern G.O.P. believes that the current distribution of property and opportunity is basically fair. It believes that, in essence, egalitarian measures by government entail theft.

Its anti-unionism implies that even government’s concern for equal bargaining power entails theft, for management’s unequal bargaining power represents property fairly earned. The modern G.O.P. is a Social Darwinist party. It’s time to face that fact and open an honest debate on its merits.

Chicago, April 11, 2011

The writer is a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame.

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