WASHINGTON -- In his first Sunday show interview since his reelection, President Barack Obama admonished congressional Republicans for their unwillingness to compromise over debt reduction and implored the media to cast aside its pox-on-both-your-houses coverage.
With the deadline for negotiations over the so-called fiscal cliff looming in the backdrop, the president took to NBC's "Meet the Press" to defend his efforts to find common ground. He noted that he had moved off his initial demands for revenue (once $1.6 trillion, now $1.2 trillion), agreed to entitlement reforms (reduced Social Security benefits) and already signed hefty spending cuts ($1 trillion as part of the Budget Control Act in 2011). For all that, he added, he was still waiting for Republicans to come closer to halfway.
"We have been talking to the Republicans ever since the election was over. They have had trouble saying yes to a number of repeated offers," said the president, according to an advance transcript of the interview with host David Gregory. Obama added later, "[S]o far, at least, Congress has not been able to get this stuff done. Not because Democrats in Congress don't want to go ahead and cooperate, but because I think it's been very hard for Speaker Boehner and Republican Leader McConnell to accept the fact that taxes on the wealthiest Americans should go up a little bit, as part of an overall deficit reduction package."
The tone was tougher than usual from the president. In the past, he's been hesitant to directly rebuke congressional Republicans, choosing instead to attack the legislative body as a whole.
But the last few weeks of negotiations have clearly frustrated both him and his staff. White House aides were particularly piqued at Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for shelving negotiations over a larger fiscal cliff deal in pursuit of a tax-rate-only option. That ended the legislative progress in the House and forced the Senate to pick up talks. With just days before tax rates rise on all income levels and $1 trillion in decadelong spending cuts go into effect, Senate leaders met on Saturday to find a way through the impasse. One knowledgeable aide said a deal didn’t look likely as of Saturday afternoon. A Republican aide said it would be impossible to know for sure until Sunday afternoon, when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will brief their respective caucuses.
Even as they talked, preparations were being made to manage the public relations fallout over failure to meet the deadline. Part of that involved the president hitting the Sunday talk show circuit, where he urged the press not to resort to false equivalencies when assigning blame.
The only thing I would caution against, David, is I think this notion of, "Well, both sides are just kind of unwilling to cooperate." And that's just not true. I mean if you look at the facts, what you have is a situation here where the Democratic Party, warts and all, and certainly me, warts and all, have consistently done our best to try to put country first.
And to try to work with everybody involved to make sure that we've got an economy [that] grows. Make sure that it works for everybody. Make sure that we're keeping the country safe. And does the Democratic Party still have some knee-jerk ideological positions and are there some folks in the Democratic Party who sometimes aren't reasonable? Of course. That's true of every political party.
But generally if you look at how I've tried to govern over the last four years and how I'll continue to try to govern, I'm not driven by some ideological agenda. I am a pretty practical guy. And I just want to make sure that things work. And one of the nice things about never having another election again, I will never campaign again, is I think you can rest assured that all I care about is making sure that I leave behind an America that is stronger, more prosperous, more stable, more secure than it was when I came into office.
UPDATE: 11:04 a.m. -- Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on ABC's "This Week," said he thought a fiscal cliff deal would come together after Jan. 3, when Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) is safely reelected speaker. "I am hopeful in the new year, after Speaker Boehner is elected -- reelected -- and he doesn't have to worry about those 50 [members of the Tea Party faction], that he will start working in a way like the Senate works, which is Democrats and Republicans together," said Schumer.
Schumer and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), speaking on "Fox News Sunday," indicated that the scaled-down agreement coming together Sunday in the Senate would likely include extensions of tax credits for business and research and development, as well as measures to stave off an automatic cut in Medicare reimbursement rates and to block the alternative minimum tax from hitting millions of Americans.
As for the president's pointing the finger at the GOP, David Brooks, the somewhat conservative New York Times columnist, backed up Obama, mostly, on "Meet the Press."
"Most of the blame still has to go to the Republicans," Brooks said. "They've had a brain freeze since the election. They have no strategy. They don't know what they want. They haven't decided what they want."
Also on HuffPost:
The U.S. incarcerates its citizens at a rate roughly <a href="http://www.parade.com/news/2009/03/why-we-must-fix-our-prisons.html" target="_hplink">five times higher than the global average</a>. We have about 5 percent of the world's population, but 25 percent of its prisoners, according to The Economist,. This status quo costs our local, state and federal governments a combined $68 billion a year -- all of which becomes a federal problem during recessions, when states look to Washington for fiscal relief. Over the standard 10-year budget window used in Congress, that's a $680 billion hit to the deficit. Solving longstanding prison problems -- releasing elderly convicts unlikely to commit crimes, offering treatment or counseling as an alternative to prison for non-violent offenders, slightly shortening the sentences of well-behaved inmates, and substituting probation for more jail-time -- would do wonders for government spending.
End Of The Drug War
The federal government spends more than <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-20072096.html" target="_hplink">$15 billion a year</a> investigating and prosecuting the War on Drugs. That's $150 billion in Washington budget-speak, and it doesn't include the far higher costs of incarcerating millions of people for doing drugs. This money isn't getting the government the results it wants. As drug war budgets balloon, drug use escalates. Ending the Drug War offers the government two separate budget boons. In addition to saving all the money spending investigating, prosecuting and incarcerating drug offenders, Uncle Sam could actually regulate and tax drugs like marijuana, generating new revenue. Studies by pot legalization advocates indicate that fully legalizing weed in California would yield <a href="http://canorml.org/background/CA_legalization2.html" target="_hplink">up to $18 billion annually</a> for that state's government alone. For the feds, the benefits are even sweeter.
Let Medicare Negotiate With Big Pharma
The U.S. has <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2009/06/01/us-healthcare-costs-sb-idUSTRE5504Z320090601" target="_hplink">higher health care costs than any other country</a>. We spend over 15 percent of our total economic output each year on health care -- roughly 50 percent more than Canada, and double what the U.K. spends. Why? The American private health care system is inefficient, and the intellectual property rules involving medication in the U.S. can make prescription drugs much more expensive than in other countries. Medicare currently spends about $50 billion a year on prescription drugs. According to economist Dean Baker, <a href="http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/intellectual_property_2004_09.pdf" target="_hplink">Americans spend roughly 10 times more than they need to</a> on prescription drugs as a result of our unique intellectual property standards. These savings for the government, of course, would come from the pockets of major pharmaceutical companies, currently among the most profitable corporations the world has ever known. They also exercise tremendous clout inside the Beltway. President Barack Obama even <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/02/barack-obama-politics_n_1847947.html" target="_hplink">guaranteed drug companies more restrictive -- and lucrative -- intellectual property standards</a> in order to garner their support for the Affordable Care Act.
Offshore Tax Havens
The U.S. Treasury Department estimates that it loses about <a href="http://www.ctj.org/pdf/stopact.pdf" target="_hplink">$100 billion a year</a> in revenue due to offshore tax haven abuses. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has been pushing legislation for years to rein in this absurd tax maneuvering, but corporate lobbying on Capitol Hill has prevented the bill from becoming law.
Deprivatize Government Contract Work
In recent years, the federal government has privatized an enormous portion of public projects to government contractors. Over the past decade, the federal government's staffing has held steady, while the number of federal contractors has <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">increased by millions</a>. This outsourcing has resulted in much higher costs for the government than would be incurred by simply doing the work in-house. On average, contractors are paid <a href="http://pogoarchives.org/m/co/igf/bad-business-report-only-2011.pdf" target="_hplink">nearly double</a> what a comparable federal employee would receive for the same job, according to the Project On Government Oversight.
Print More Money
There's an old saying in economics: You have to print money to make money. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/09/underwear-sales-growth-economy_n_1952214.html" target="_hplink">Okay, there's no such saying</a>. Nevertheless, the great boogeyman of many conservative economic doctrines -- inflation -- isn't such a bad idea during periods where much of the citizenry is drowning in debt. Inflation is by no means a perfect remedy: it's a stealth cut to workers' wages. But it also has many benefits that are often unacknowledged by the Washington intelligentsia. Inflation makes housing debt, student loan debt and any other private-sector debt more manageable. Today, when <a href="http://www.corelogic.com/about-us/researchtrends/asset_upload_file448_16434.pdf" target="_hplink">10.8 million</a> homes are underwater -- meaning borrowers owe banks than their houses are worth, moderate inflation could ease that debt burden. By effectively reducing monthly bills, moderate inflation could actually put more money in the pockets of these homeowners to spend elsewhere, thus stimulating the economy. Moderate inflation -- 5 percent or so -- could also help alleviate the <a href="http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-57555780/student-loan-debt-nears-$1-trillion-is-it-the-new-subprime/" target="_hplink">$1 trillion</a> in student debt currently plaguing America's graduates. Make no mistake -- hyperinflation of 20 percent, 30 percent or more -- is bad. But the U.S. has ways to crush inflation when it gets out of hand, as proven by the Federal Reserve under then-Chairman Paul Volcker in the early-1980s.
Print Less Money
The government prints a <em>lot</em> of $1 bills. But it turns out that minting $1 coins is much, much cheaper. Over the course of 30 years, the government could save $4.4 billion by switching from dollar bills to dollar coins. Here's looking at you, <a href="http://www.usmint.gov/mint_programs/nativeamerican/" target="_hplink">Sacagawea</a>.
Immigration: Less Detention, More Ankle Bracelets
The government spends <a href="http://newamericamedia.org/2012/04/ice-slow-to-embrace-alternatives-to-immigrant-detention.php" target="_hplink"> $122 per person, per day</a> detaining immigrants who are considered safe and unlikely to commit crimes. The government has plenty of other options available to monitor such people, at a cost of as little as $15 per person. For the first 205 years of America's existence, there was no federal system for detaining immigrants. The process began in 1981.
Financial Speculation Tax
Wall Street loves to gamble. In good times, financial speculation is the source of tremendous profits in America's banking system, but when the bets go bad, the government picks up the tab, as evidenced by the epic bank bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Unfortunately, this speculation is difficult to define in legalistic terminology and even more difficult to police. One solution? By taxing every financial trade at the ultra-low rate of 0.25 percent, the U.S. government can impose a modest incentive against gambling for the sheer sake of gambling. If there's an immediate cost to placing a bet, a lot of traders will choose not to bet. What's more, this tax could raise about <a href="http://www.ips-dc.org/media/why_a_financial_transaction_tax" target="_hplink">$150 billion a year</a> for the federal government.
Taxing greenhouse gases would generate $80 billion a year right now, and up to $310 billion a year by 2050, <a href="http://www.brookings.edu/research/papers/2012/07/carbon-tax-mckibbin-morris-wilcoxen" target="_hplink">according to an analysis by the Brookings Institution</a>. It would also help avert catastrophic ecological and economic damage from climate change.