Wonk in Chief Demolishes Romney-Ryan

September 9th, 2012

The Democrats wrapped up an amazing Convention last week, but the best speaker by far was former President Bill Clinton. In a speech that was remarkably full of wonky policy details (someone on Twitter refered to it as ”45 minutes of wonk porn” and Ezra Klein dubbed him the Wonk in Chief),  Clinton dismantled the case for a Romney-Ryan Presidency piece by piece.

He spoke about Democratic vs. Republican economic philosophies and economic records:

We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that “We’re all in this together” is a far better philosophy than “You’re on your own.”

So who’s right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private- sector jobs. So what’s the job score? Republicans: twenty-four million. Democrats: forty-two.

He put the economic and political situation in perspective:

In Tampa, the Republican argument against the president’s re- election was actually pretty simple, pretty snappy. It went something like this: “We left him a total mess. He hasn’t cleaned it up fast enough, so fire him and put us back in.”…

I like the argument for President Obama’s re-election a lot better. Here it is. He inherited a deeply damaged economy. He put a floor under the crash. He began the long, hard road to recovery and laid the foundation for a modern, more well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good, new jobs, vibrant new businesses, and lots of new wealth for innovators…

When President Barack Obama took office, the economy was in freefall. It had just shrunk 9 full percent of GDP. We were losing 750,000 jobs a month.

He compared the situation to when he was in office, intimating that the economy just hadn’t been given enough time to recover:

Here’s the challenge he faces and the challenge all of you who support him face. I get it. I know it. I’ve been there. A lot of Americans are still angry and frustrated about this economy. If you look at the numbers, you know employment is growing, banks are beginning to lend again, and in a lot of places, housing prices have even began to pick up.

But too many people do not feel it yet. I had this same thing happen in 1994 and early ‘95. We could see that the policies were working, that the economy was growing, but most people didn’t feel it yet. Thankfully, by 1996, the economy was roaring, everybody felt it, and we were halfway through the longest peacetime expansion in the history of the United States…. But the difference this time is purely in the circumstances. President Obama started with a much weaker economy than I did. Listen to me now. No president, no president — not me, not any of my predecessors — no one could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.

The not so subtle message: You know how great I was for the economy, but even I couldn’t have got this economy moving. A very important message aimed directly at moderates who worry that the lack of a more robust economic recovery may be the result of Obama’s economic policies instead of the devastating effects of the 2008 financial crisis.

Clinton defended the Administration’s policy decisions on health care and the auto bailout and then demolished the Romney-Ryan argument on Medicare:

(B)oth Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan attacked the president for allegedly “robbing Medicare” of $716 billion. That’s the same attack they leveled against the Congress in 2010, and they got a lot of votes on it. But it’s not true.

Look, here’s what really happened. You be the judge… There were no cuts to benefits at all, none. What the president did was to save money by taking the recommendations of a commission of professionals to cut unwarranted subsidies to providers and insurance companies that were not making people healthier and were not necessary to get the providers to provide the service. And instead of raiding Medicare, he used the savings to close the donut hole in the Medicare drug program. And — you all got to listen carefully to this. This is really important — and to add eight years to the life of the Medicare trust fund so it is solvent until 2024.

So President Obama and the Democrats didn’t weaken Medicare. They strengthened Medicare.

With his signature, folksy grin, Bill Clinton savaged Ryan:

Now, when Congressman Ryan looked into that TV camera and attacked President Obama’s Medicare savings as, quote, “the biggest, coldest power play,” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry… because that $716 billion is exactly to the dollar the same amount of Medicare savings that he has in his own budget!

And then the coup de gras:

You got to give one thing: It takes some brass to attack a guy for doing what you did.

And then a pivot from Ryan to Romney:

Now, at least on this issue, on this one issue, Governor Romney has been consistent. He attacked President Obama, too, but he actually wants to repeal those savings and give the money back to the insurance company. He wants to go back to the old system, which means we’ll reopen the donut hole and force seniors to pay more for drugs, and we’ll reduce the life of the Medicare trust fund by eight full years. So if he’s elected, and if he does what he promised to do, Medicare will now go broke in 2016. Think about that. That means after all we won’t have to wait until their voucher program kicks in, in 2023, to see the end of Medicare as we know it. They’re going to do it to us sooner than we thought.

Clinton also hit Romney and Ryan on Medicaid cuts, which is a topic that has mostly been avoided by Democrats, since programs for the poor have shown consistently less support than universal programs such as Medicare. Clinton pointed out that all the Romney-Ryan talk about preserving benefits for current seniors is just that: talk.

They also want to block grant Medicaid and cut it by a third over the coming 10 years. Of course, that’s going to really hurt a lot of poor kids. But that’s not all. A lot of folks don’t know it, but nearly two-thirds of Medicaid is spent on nursing home care for Medicare seniors who are eligible for Medicaid. It’s going to end Medicare as we know it. And a lot of that money is also spent to help people with disabilities, including… a lot of middle-class families whose kids have Down’s syndrome or autism or other severe conditions.

Again, subtext: we’re not just talking about poor people here, we’re talking about good, middle-class people like you…

Similarly, Clinton took apart Romney and Ryan’s claim to be the guys making the tough calls on the budget: 

(T)he Romney plan fails the first test of fiscal responsibility: The numbers just don’t add up.

I mean, consider this. What would you do if you had this problem? Somebody says, “Oh, we’ve got a big debt problem. We’ve got to reduce the debt.” So what’s the first thing he says we’re going to do? “Well, to reduce the debt, we’re going to have another $5 trillion in tax cuts, heavily weighted to upper-income people. So we’ll make the debt hole bigger before we start to get out of it.”

Now, when you say, “What are you going to do about this $5 trillion you just added on?” They say, “Oh, we’ll make it up by eliminating loopholes in the tax code.” So then you ask, “Well, which loopholes? And how much?” You know what they say? “See me about that after the election.”

I’m not making it up. That’s their position. “See me about that after the election.”

Now, people ask me all the time how we got four surplus budgets in a row. What new ideas did we bring to Washington? I always give a one-word answer: arithmetic…

If they stay with this $5 trillion tax cut plan in a debt reduction plan, the arithmetic tells us, no matter what they say, one of three things is about to happen. One, assuming they try to do what they say they’ll do — get rid of — cover it by deductions, cutting those deductions — one, they’ll have to eliminate so many deductions, like the ones for home mortgages and charitable giving, that middle- class families will see their tax bills go up an average of $2,000, while anybody who makes $3 million or more will see their tax bill go down $250,000.

Or, two, they’ll have to cut so much spending that they’ll obliterate the budget for the national parks, for ensuring clean air, clean water, safe food, safe air travel. They’ll cut way back on Pell grants, college loans, early childhood education, child nutrition programs, all the programs that help to empower middle-class families and help poor kids. Oh, they’ll cut back on investments in roads and bridges and science and technology and biomedical research. That’s what they’ll do. They’ll hurt the middle class and the poor and put the future on hold to give tax cuts to upper-income people who’ve been getting it all along.

Or, three, in spite of all the rhetoric, they’ll just do what they’ve been doing for more than 30 years. They’ll go and cut the taxes way more than they cut spending, especially with that big defense increase, and they’ll just explode the debt and weaken the economy, and they’ll destroy the federal government’s ability to help you by letting interest gobble up all your tax payments.

To summarize: the three possible outcomes from the Romney plan: 1) huge tax cuts for the rich and increases for the midele class 2) drastic cuts in services that huge majorities of middle class voters support (all to give tax cuts to the rich) or 3) gigantic deficits (with yet another reminder of how abysmal the Republican record on deficits has been since the 1980′s).

Alltogether, Clinton’s argument was a tour de force. He gave Barack Obama the imprimatur of the most popular politician in America, he explained the extraordinary situation that we find ourselves in the during the Great Recession, and he demolished the credibility of the Romney-Ryan budget as well as their criticisms of Obama on Medicare. He did it making a speech that spoke to Americans as adults and didn’t shy away from policy details. But perhaps most impressive: he did it all with a smile on his face and you could tell he was having fun.

This one may resonate for a while.

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