President Obama participated in CNBC’s Investing in America Town Hall today where he called out the Tea Party and told them to get specific about exactly what spending they would cut. Obama said, “It’s not enough just to say get control of spending. I think it’s important for you to say I’m willing to cut veteran’s benefits, or I’m willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits.”
Here is the video from CNBC:
Obama was asked an audience question about what his administration will do if the Tea Party activists get elected. He answered, “Well, let me say this about the Tea Party movement, which your friend Rick helped to name. I think that America has a noble tradition of being healthily skeptical about government. That’s in our DNA. Right? I mean we came in because the folks on the other side of Atlantic had been oppressing folks without giving them representation, and so we’ve always had a healthy skepticism about government, and I think that is a good thing. I think there’s also a noble tradition in the Republican and the Democratic parties of saying that government should pay its way, it shouldn’t get so big that we are leaving debt to the next generation. All those things, I think are helping.”
The President discussed the conflict between public’s fear of deficits, and their demand for services. “The problem that I’ve seen in the debate that’s been taking place in some of these Tea Party events is I think they’re misidentifying sort of who the culprits are here. As I said before, we had to take some emergency steps last year, but the majority of economists will tell you the emergency steps we take are not the problem long term. The problem long term are the problems that I talked about earlier. We’ve got, we had two tax cuts that weren’t paid for, two wars that weren’t paid for. We’ve got a population that’s getting older. We’re all demanding services, but our taxes have actually substantially gone down, and so the challenge, I think for the Tea Party movement is to identify specifically what would you do. It’s not enough just to say get control of spending.”
Obama then called on the Tea Party to specifically tell us all what they would cut, “I think it’s important for you to say, I’m willing to cut veteran’s benefits, or I’m willing to cut Medicare or Social Security benefits, or I’m willing to see these taxes go up. What you can’t do, which I have been hearing a lot from the other side, is saying we’re gonna control government spending. We’re gonna propose four trillion dollars worth of additional tax cuts, and that magically somehow things are going to work.”
What Obama masterfully did here was set a trap for the Tea Party, and their candidates. The reason why most Tea Party candidates shun the media and debates is because they don’t want voters to know that their agenda involves cutting programs and services that many Americans depend on and love. They don’t want to tell veterans that they will cut their benefits. They don’t want to tell the elderly that there is no place on the Tea Party platform for Medicare, and they most definitely do not want to go into detail about their Social Security privatization fantasies.
The President was correct to say that it is not enough to run on getting control of government spending, because the reality is that we can’t cut ourselves out of debt. There is very little discretionary spending in the federal budget, so in order for federal spending to come down cuts have to be made in programs that a vast majority of Americans oppose cutting. If Americans knew about the true plans of Tea Party candidates, their support would plummet.
What Obama did was plant the seed. He is trying to get voters to look beyond the anger and ask these candidates what they really stand for. When they were running in primaries, it was fine to run on outsider anger, but now the question should be what will these candidates actually do if they are elected? Since the Tea Party candidates won’t face questions from the media, Democrats are going to have to ask the questions themselves. Every time the true beliefs of any of the Tea Party candidates become known their support falls. Today, Obama used the bully pulpit to take the first step in turning up the heat on these radical candidates.