The Wall Street Journal sponsors a forum every year entitled the “CEO Council”. This years report was published just a few days back at CEO Council – Wsj.com. I encourage each of you to get a copy and read it.
Of particular interest to me was the interview with the two chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan deficit-reduction commission, and a particular question responded to by Erskine Bowles a Democrat and former White House Chief of Staff under President Clinton. My comments will follow Mr. Bowles answer.
AUDIENCE QUESTION: Your presidential commission delivered your report in December. How surprised were you that your commission gave the president tremendous coverage to do something, and it wasn’t even mentioned in the State of the Union?
MR. BOWLES: If you think you were surprised, you should have looked at us. I negotiated the budget for President Clinton. And every investment banker will tell you the key to success is knowing your client and defining success up front. So, I knew what success was on his part, and I could go in there and negotiate the deal.
I did not know President Obama, and neither did Alan. So, we spent a tremendous amount of time with him and his economic team up front defining success. And we negotiated a deal that got a majority of Republicans to vote for it, so he had plenty of cover on the other side. It also exceeded every single one of the goals that he had given us.
I fully expected them to grab hold of this. If it had been President Clinton, he would have said, “God, I created this, this is wonderful. It was all my idea.”
So we were really surprised. My belief is that most of the members of the economic team strongly supported it. Like every White House, there’s a small cabal of people that surround the president that he trusts and works with, and I believe it was those Chicago guys, the political team that convinced him that it would be smarter for him to wait and let Paul Ryan go first, and then he would look like the sensible guy in the game.
We then expected, before the State of the Union, that when he did the stimulus, that that would be a great time to say not only, look, we’re going to do this to get the economy moving forward, but we have to do it within the context of long-term fiscal reform and responsibility. And he didn’t.
If you remember the State of the Union, he talked about the need for this country to invest in education and infrastructure and high-value-added research to be able to compete in a knowledge-based global economy. And he’s right about that. But he left off a part, that we have to do it in a fiscally responsible way. We live in a world of limited resources, and limited resources mean choices and priorities.
Barack Obama’s response to the deficit commission report and to Simpson and Bowles speaks volumes about the character of Obama. Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson spent a great deal of effort and time with the President in drafting a plan that “exceeded every single one of the goals that he (Obama) had given us”. Further, this plan “got a majority of Republicans to vote for it.”
There you have it, a plan containing a considerable amount of bipartisanship and one seriously addressing the deficit/debt problem facing the nation. Further, at the same time, Republican Congressman Paul Ryan was developing a budget plan also addressing the deficit/debt problem. So the makings were there for a truly historic breakthrough that a President of character could have and should have capitalized on. A president of character would have immediately sought to work together with Rep. Ryan, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson and the rest of congress to craft legislation that would seriously attack the American Debt problem; a problem the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mullen identified as “Our Biggest Security Threat.”
Instead, as Mr. Bowles (a Democrat I remind you again) points out, the President chose the path of politics and trashed not only Rep. Ryan’s plan but also his own presidential commission’s plan.
And so here we are at the tail end of the failure of the “super Committee”, and engaging in the politically correct game of assigning bi-partisan blame; a sort of moral equivalency. No, there is no bi-partisan blame here, only Presidential blame.
I’ve written in the past about the twin prongs of excessive national debt; 1) budgetary debt where a nation can’t even take care of its own domestic priorities, and 2) strategic debt where a nation can’t even fulfill it’s national defense obligations. This second prong is what Adm. Mullen was referring to, and now we are entering full speed into that dark night.
Is this man a good leader?
Is this man a good President?
Is this man a good American?
Does this man even rise to the level of being a good man?
And finally, does it even matter?