Tuesday, April 19, 2011

NEEDED: REAL PRESIDENTIAL LEADERSHIP


With the submission of President Obama’s deficit reduction plan, all major players are on board for what could be an enriching debate focused not only on deficit reduction but, more importantly, on creating an expectation for America and particularly for our children.  This involves deciding as a people our own quality of life and our role in global affairs.  Such a magnificent opportunity should not be blown away by ignorant and self-serving partisan rhetoric.  The real test is not the deficit but the broader issue of civil discourse and governance.

As an electorate, we have choices.  There are four major deficit reduction plans emanating from the Republicans, the President, the Bowles-Simpson Report, and the team of former GOP Senator Pete Domenici and Clinton Budget Director Alice Rivlin.  In addition, GOP Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is working with a bi-partisan “gang of six” on producing another entry.  All plans have some genuine merit and give us an opportunity to piecemeal together a superb approach that not only reduces the deficit to manageable levels but also permits more investment in our transportation infrastructure and our young people via a real focus on educational excellence and opportunity for economic growth.  It must be about tomorrow.

In a sense, the budgetary dilemma is simple:  we are taking in some 18 percent of GDP in revenue and spending at a 24 percent rate.  The gap is the deficit and is currently being covered by heavy borrowing from investors both here and abroad.  Right now, foreign investors hold some $4.3 trillion of US treasuries.  We currently pay $413 billion per year in interest costs but the kicker is that within 10 years that figure will rise to approximately a trillion dollars – thereby crowding out other vital expenditures ranging from education to defense.

However with Standard & Poor’s warning and changing our government’s credit rating from “stable” to “negative”, time is no longer an ally and will likely compel some key decisions by July as part of the debt ceiling debate.

If there is a missing ingredient, it is not on the program side but rather in the area of leadership.  I would contend the President’s opportunity to take the political initiative was lost when he largely ignored the report of his own bi-partisan commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (Bowles-Simpson Report) and gave the lead role to the GOP.  The President should fully accept this and now decide to fully commit himself  to providing broad Presidential leadership encouraging participants to sharpen their proposals and then laying down solid visionary goals that compel all approaches to deal with specific ideas relative to economic growth and excellences in global competition. 

What the debate needs is not an Obama proposal but rather an Obama vision with the leadership skills necessary to piece together the best from all proposals.

Realistically, his proposal is the weakest entry and has all the characteristics of a hasty effort.   It should be withdrawn.   Clearly, the two most solid approaches emanate from Domenici-Rivlin and Bowles-Simpson.  They appear to be well researched and reflect quality bi-partisan thought.   I also suspect that the “gang of six” will come up with a very workable plan.

After the election debacle of 2010 and the health care debate, I doubt that many Congressional Democrats will fall on their swords for the President’s late entry.  But what everyone would appreciate is Presidential leadership that guides the debate to a quality conclusion.

If I may, let me be blunt.  If the President is seen as a partisan combatant, the food fight will continue and we, the people, will truly suffer with higher interest rates and a declining economy.  Hence, we need a President that will lead all America.

Toward this end, it is imperative that he form a bi-partisan team to formulate an agreement.   This means real input from all sides, a non-partisan tonality, and shared ownership.

Nothing less will stabilize the financial ship of state.

2 comments:

  1. I'd like to suggest that the radical right punished President Obama for attempting to govern from the middle. He compromised repeatedly on health insurance reform. He made huge concessions at the end of the last year on stimulus. But the payoff for governing from the middle has been that the middle becomes the left, and then the right wing demands that further concessions must be made. If he makes a concession, he is still accused of being a socialist, a foreigner, and "the worst President the country has ever had."

    This process has weakened him by alienating the majority which elected him. They are saying, most of them, what the heck is the point of working hard to get a Democrat as President, we get sold out time and time again, by "democrats in name only." People squirm as they see the majority party take the position that they must ceded their majority to gangs of six, of ten, equally divided, only to discover that the right wing of these so called bipartisan groups back out of any compromise that is made. The last straw, I think, was the claim of some of the so-called bipartisan Senators that the President was sponsoring death panels.

    So Obama decided, rightly I believe, that in order to enter negotiations with the right, he needed to have his own party behind him. This was sound strategy, which will reward him and the country.

    In the current environment, the republican base will threaten any republican who fails to attack the President from the hard right. The Republican center, if there is any left, lacks the spine to stand up to these modern no-nothings. If the Republican Party wants the President to govern in a bipartisan manner, then they need to stop calling him a foreigner, a communist, a socialist, and reward bipartisanship with bipartisanship.

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  2. Barack Obama is the ultimate centrist and consensus builder. One of his classmates at Harvard Law School, Nancy McCullough, said she never remembered Barack being passionate about any single issue. She said he was often self-effacing and modest and he sought to move forward toward reconciliation of divergent opinions. She said this was a particularly useful skill Obama had in a law review at Harvard where opinions were flying and arguments bombastic. Obama was always the one to forge consensus and he was respected by both conservative and liberals on the Harvard Law Review and that won him the position as editor. The angry rhetoric and divisiveness the Republicans have shown; the name calling and false allegations do not serve the best interests of this nation and its people.

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