In his speech Tuesday at a luncheon for editors and reporters of the Associated Press, President Obama set his sights squarely on the GOP budget plan, the 2012 elections, and, for the first time, former governor and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.
Republicans have “proposed a budget so far to the right,” the president stated, “that it makes the Contract with America look like the New Deal.”
He went on to describe the plan as a sort of “Trojan Horse,” one which attempted to sneak in a form of “thinly veiled Social Darwinism.” He went on to justify these remarks by suggesting that the proposed cuts would result in lower financial aid for “nearly 10 million college students,” decreased numbers of medical grants, and funding cuts for Head Start that would result in 200,000 children losing a chance at early education.
He also targeted the reforms being made to Medicare/Medicaid through the Paul Ryan budget, saying states would “have to be running these programs in the face of the largest cut to Medicaid that has ever been proposed — a cut that, according to one nonpartisan group, would take away health care for about 19 million Americans.” His criticism went directly at the Ryan plan’s proposed “block grants” to individual states that would be in charge of running the programs themselves.
“It’s a bad idea,” said Obama, “and it will ultimately end health care as we know it.”
He also took a moment to recognize former governor Mitt Romney as a “potential opponent” for the presidential race. During his criticism of the Ryan plan, Obama pointed out that Romney has stood behind the plan – going so far as to call it “marvelous.” Senior officials, speaking under anonymity, suggest that the president was using the plan as a means to attack Romney early on.
As a whole, the speech was part of the larger shift into campaign mode for 2012. Obama voiced his support for an upcoming vote on the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which attempts to lock tax rates for Americans bringing in over $1 million to pay an effective rate of at least 30%.
Ultimately, the president’s speech falls a bit flat. His support for the Buffett Rule – despite his claims against any sort of “class warfare” – draws a flat distinction between one group of citizens and another. That is, by very definition, class warfare; any progressive income tax is. That the president has a certain sense of shame about it is simply politicking to court undecided votes.
His overall speech, however, does bring certain difficulties in the Ryan plan to light. While the president does rely a bit on hyperbole – his thought experiment relied on “spreading cuts evenly” (the Ryan plan does not make such a suggestion) and projecting into the “middle of the century,” which is admittedly impossible – his overall commentary does call on Republicans to be a bit more specific in their plan.
After all, it is an election year, and Republicans are going to need to be specific if they want to oust Obama in November. Until then, it will be more and more difficult for the GOP to convincingly answer tough charges like “Social Darwinism.”