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Baker Institute Student Forum debate: Obama's budget a defining moment

By Gabe Cuadra     4/14/11 7:00pm

For a few minutes, it looked like we might have actually had a partial government shut down last week.

But, thanks to some last minute legislation, a less sexy sequel to the Clinton-Gingrich saga of the mid '90s resulted.

But with Speaker of the House Jim Boehner promising the next budget battle to be over trillions, not billions, and the debt ceiling debate on the horizon, it is clear that the decisive battles are still to come.

President Obama's adeptness in the upcoming political clashes with House Republicans will be key to setting the stage for the 2012 election.

First, he must recognize and be ready to exploit the chinks found this week in the Republican armor. To begin with, this week reiterated the fact that the Republicans face difficulties keeping distracting special interests out of legislation. This is simply one of the challenges of writing legislation in a 435 member body. But it was on full display last week when abortion made its way into the budget negotiations. Anytime the public feels that non-related issues are being dragged in, it's advantage Obama.

Moreover, the Republican proposal includes cutting services for the poor and cutting taxes for the wealthy, therefore providing a political target that will resonate with independent voters. Whether their true goal is smaller government overall or trying to stimulate business, the Republicans will lose support if they are seen as further deepening the class divide.

Second, the President must counter with a budget that balances appearing tough on the debt, and also being more centrist than the Republican Plan for Prosperity. Any serious proposal should directly address Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. While they are politically charged issues, not addressing them will be construed as weakness. The political window is open for him to work with Republicans to mend these struggling entitlements.

His budget must also balance spending cuts with prudent investment. In this economic climate, perception is potent. The next government budget must be seen not as a panicked downsize, but as a trimming of excess that will encourage consumer and business confidence.

And his budget should challenge the Republicans on the Bush tax cuts. Even if the tax cuts are put into place in some reduced form, it gives him a bargaining chip and forces the GOP to take a firm stand on whether lowering the debt is their top priority.

Finally, the President must turn his pro-growth rhetoric into tangible action.

The current power dynamics allow him to tackle issues that he has touted, but couldn't take on with a Democratic house. For two years, he did pass some groundbreaking legislation but had his image hurt by politics within his party. Now having a foil will play to his advantage.

So let's see a comprehensive tax reform. Let's see tort reform. Let's see a reorganization of government that saves money and cuts down on red tape. It's the right thing to do politically, and more importantly, the right thing to do for our country.

Soon, the President will be challenged to show the change he promised four years ago. Now is the opportunity for him to show that his leadership is worth believing in.


Gabe Cuadra is a Will Rice College Junior.

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