Dormroom Debate: How important is the fiscal crisis to Obama?
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    This weekend on "Meet The Press", former Republican vice presidential candidate and chairman of the House Budget Committee Paul Ryan claimed that President Barack Obama didn't think the U.S. was in a fiscal crisis and is instead focused on moving the country farther to the left in the political spectrum. Do Ryan's claims have any value, or is he writing a check he can't cash? Our writers decide. Photos of the authors by Sunny Kang / North by Northwestern.

    Photo by Sunny Kang/North by Northwestern

    I’m a Medill sophomore double majoring in American history and I’ve been liberal as long as I could remember.

    While growing up in the far suburbs of New York City in a devoutly Democratic family certainly has its influences, the ideas of my parents’ party have always just made sense to me, even when we’ve butted heads about just how far these ideas should be taken.

    To me, it makes sense to have a government that invests in and financially protects its citizens as long as they meet their end of the bargain. It makes sense to me to have a government that guarantees not only freedom of religion, but also freedom from religion. It makes sense to me to have a government that’s more concerned with preserving peace than projecting power. 

    But more than anything, I believe if politicians focused more on the good of their country and less on the good of their party, the actions that they’d take would make a lot more sense. 

    President Obama may have just started a new term, but one Republican is singing the same old songs of his first four years in office.

    In the midst of rehabbing his image after being hitched to the train wreck that was Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, Paul Ryan recently called Obama's recognition of the U.S.'s fiscal crisis into question. Last weekend on "Meet The Press," the Wisconsin congressman claimed Obama doesn't see a need to reduce governmental spending and instead wants to focus on establishing more "government-run health care."

    These, like many accusations Ryan makes, are categorically false. Obama has proven his willingness to make difficult cuts to entitlement programs. In fact, Obama has been urging reforms to entitlement programs ever since he was elected in 2008, a time when he didn't exactly need to pander to a Republican Party out-numbered in both the House and Senate.

    While Democrats screamed against the inclusion of a chained consumer price index for Social Security in a fiscal cliff deal, Obama said he would be open to it. This is why Obama is still vying for responsible reforms to Social Security and Medicare, even when it means partially breaking his campaign promises.

    Like many Americans and most rational human beings, Obama knew that in order to subvert the fiscal cliff while preventing the U.S. from defaulting on its loans, he couldn't just tax the wealthiest Americans into making up the $16 trillion debt. Democrats swore monastically not to touch Social Security or Medicare, but Obama conceded to his Republican counterparts that responsible cuts to entitlement program were necessary.

    Throughout all of the partisan bickering and bitchiness, Obama made his message clear: a brighter fiscal future for the U.S. could only be achieved by everyone bearing the burden – rich and poor alike.

    There's just one problem: it doesn't seem to be important enough to him for the Republicans, even when it actually is.

    In a recent interview with The New RepublicObama addressed fiscal concerns first on a list of things he would need to handle in order to get Washington back in working order. Obama claimed that in order to make progress on immigration reform and climate change, issues Republicans will be forced to work with Democrats on to save face, the debt issues must be resolved first if for no other reason than to establish a working report with the GOP.

    So how can Obama reassure Republicans that he is as commited as they are to fixing the debt crisis? By making that the primary focus of his upcoming State of the Union Address, Obama can take the first step toward a sustainable, long-term bipartisan solution to the country's fiscal woes.

    Obama can take this in two directions: He can either bury the proverbial hatchet and insist that Democrats and Republicans beginning the negotations in good faith with a clean slate, or he could chide and embarass the Republican Party for their role in the disappointing but necessary side-stepping of the fiscal cliff we saw earlier this month.

    Obama allegedly threatened to blame the entire fiscal cliff on the GOP in his SOTU if a deal wasn't reached, so it isn't like he wouldn't be willing to take such an extreme measure. However, the last thing Republicans need is another reason to dislike Obama, which is why it is imperative that he drive home how dedicated he has been to entitlement reform in the upcoming address.

    Obama has had trouble communicating his progress effectively before. Now it is time to drive home another key message: while they may disagree on how to do it, both Obama and the GOP put the fiscal future of this country before anything else.

    In reality, Obama and the GOP have been singing the same old song all along. Now it's time for Washington to sing in key.

    Photo by Sunny Kang/North by Northwestern

    I’m a Medill freshman from Cleveland, Ohio. I consider myself very socially conservative, and my Catholic upbringing certainly helped shaped this. My individual life experiences and introspection have strengthened these foundations, so my beliefs are the product of both religious and personal means. 

    I am slightly more moderate when it comes to fiscal matters, but I still fall within the realm of conservatism. Both my dad and maternal grandfather lost their fathers at a young age, so their stories of hard work and self-determination to make their own living have inspired me. I firmly believe in the power of the human spirit, and the oft-cited Chinese parable of “Give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...” perfectly sums up my belief on the government’s proper role. I am not opposed on principle to most federal programs, but I believe that their aim should be to make themselves unnecessary over time. The government should focus less on instantly solving its citizens’ problems and focus more on helping the people forge their own solutions.

    President Obama begins his second term with many goals that he has made clear to the public. Apparently the economic woes of the nation are not high on his list. 

    The State of the Union address is scheduled for Feb. 12. With his endorsement of the Senate’s bipartisan plan to comprehensively reform immigration, he will likely spend much of his speech discussing the parameters of this plan, possibly even making it his focus. However, Obama is overlooking a key issue facing the U.S. in the very near future. The financial crisis is far from resolved, and the President seems to be ignoring its immediate implications.

    It would be farfetched to believe that President Obama is completely oblivious of the dangers the U.S. faces economically. While Obama isn’t exactly fiddling while Rome burns, he still is underestimating what should be his highest second-term priority.

    If Obama believes that evading the fiscal cliff disaster by the skin of his teeth was a positive thing, then the country should be concerned for how he will handle the other policy issues of the next four years. This is not a problem that can be simply wished away. The debt ceiling issue has been pushed aside since the summer of 2010, and it comes back fiercer than ever each time it re-enters the national spotlight.

    By striking up the shaky deal on Jan. 1, Obama partially got his way by securing tax increases on wealthy households. However, Paul Ryan made it clear in a recent "Meet The Press" interview that the Republican House will back no further revenue raising. The debt limit expires in late February, and the fiscal debates will start up again shortly. Although the initial crisis was averted, it only served to push back the reckoning day yet again. Clearly these concerns need to be high on Obama’s priority list.

    But that just doesn’t seem to be the case at all. While Obama’s inauguration speech was hailed as patriotic, hopeful and historic, it was lacking in one key area. The President did not discuss the economy or the debt ceiling troubles in any capacity last Monday. A quick scan of the speech’s transcript revealed that he did not use the word “fiscal” once. His only use of “economy” was in his pseudo-lesson about American history, in which he said that we chose to use railroads to bolster our “modern economy.” From the perspective of this address, it seems that financial policy is taking a back seat to social policy this term.

    It should be noted that President Obama considers his upcoming State of the Union to be a companion piece to the inaugural speech. Economic matters will certainly be discussed within that forum, but the issue of priorities still remains. It looks like Obama is concerned more about reputation than the pressing issues of the country. Eager to maintain the “hope and change” elements of his early first term, he wooed his liberal fan base with demagoguery about climate change and issues of immigration and sexuality. 

    While those problems absolutely need to be handled in the near future, none of them require the same immediate attention as the financial crisis. The New Year’s Day deal created three smaller fiscal cliffs, each of which carry substantial implications with them. The often-threatened “government shutdown” is an actual possibility this time around, and it could happen as soon as the end of March if these new developments aren’t quickly rectified.

    More negotiation and last-minute worries are coming in the near future, and implications beyond the reach of the first “fiscal cliff” are very possible. That threat is a daunting one, even for a president who would call it the most immediate problem.

    But President Obama doesn’t seem to think it is as big an issue as financial experts do. While it is true that matters of this nature do not rest squarely with the president alone, he is not exempted from describing the dangers to the American people. If Obama wants the nation to cooperate with him in the difficult struggle ahead, he would do well to be honest with the public and not appease them with his social policy rhetoric.


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