The Brag Is Back: Obama Touts Record as Budget Battle Looms

With a fiscal showdown on the horizon, the President and his allies are hoping to steer the debate away from more cuts by talking up their accomplishments.

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Mandel NGAN / AFP / Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks on home ownership for the middle class at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix on Aug. 6, 2013

Washington’s perennial autumn fiscal battle is almost upon us. The government needs a new budget. The debt ceiling needs to be raised. And both parties have begun posturing for the inevitable political face-off. This year, for Democrats, that means it’s time to brag.

“I think as a party we haven’t done a good enough job selling our accomplishments,” Maryland’s Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley said at a weekend gathering of state executives in Milwaukee, comparing the American people to a jury spun by a shifty defense attorney. “You can’t expect people to make better decisions if you’re not willing to tell them the truth.”

Many of his colleagues agree. The federal deficit has shrunk rapidly since 2009, thanks to a modest economic recovery, rising tax receipts, congressional spending cuts and the winding down of two wars. Democrats like O’Malley want President Obama to take credit for those trends.

(MORE: Behind June’s Surprise $116 Billion U.S. Budget Surplus)

Last month Obama launched a new jobs push, featuring regular speeches that highlight how far the economy has come and all the ways the President hopes to improve the lot of the middle class. It’s part of an aggressive effort from the White House to move the political debate in Washington back to reinvestment after three years of deficit reduction.

With Republicans gearing up to call for more spending cuts — many support indefinitely extending a set of temporary cuts, known as sequestration — and fiercely opposing new tax revenue, Obama is trying to demonstrate that his way of doing things is already working.

“Our businesses have created 7.3 million new jobs over the last 41 months,” Obama said on Tuesday in Phoenix. “We now sell more products made in America to the rest of the world than ever before. Our exports are way up. We produce more renewable energy than ever before, more natural gas than anybody else. Health care costs have been growing at the slowest rate in 50 years. And our deficits are coming down at the fastest rate in 60 years.”

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn said he welcomed the President’s new message. “I think it was good of the President [two weeks ago] in Galesburg to start talking about how he’s brought down the deficit,” he tells TIME. “The American people need to know what he’s done.”

But it hasn’t always been this way. For Obama, it’s often been challenging to celebrate a sluggish recovery without appearing insensitive to those still looking for work — not to mention the danger of appearing too eager to pat himself on the back.

“But as any middle-class family will tell you, we’re not yet where we need to be, because even before the crisis hit, we had lived through a decade where a few at the top were doing better and better, but most families were working harder and harder just to get by,” Obama added on Tuesday, a segue to his plans to make homeownership more affordable.

(MORE: With More Deadlock Ahead, Obama Condemns Republicans in Economic Speech)

At the Democratic National Convention last year, Obama barely mentioned the economic recovery, leaving that work to former President Bill Clinton. Buoyed by a host of positive economic indicators three weeks before the election, Obama started touting his jobs record, but he often couched it in terms of recovery from a crippling crisis, not absolute gains.

“We were losing 800,000 jobs a month. Now we’ve added more than 5 million new jobs, more manufacturing jobs than anytime since the 1990s,” he said in Athens, Ohio. “The unemployment rate has fallen from 10% to 7.8%. Foreclosures are at their lowest in five years. Home values are on the rise. Stock market has doubled. Manufacturing is coming back. Assembly lines are putting folks back to work. That’s what we’ve been fighting for. Those are the promises I’ve kept.”

But after winning another term, Obama quickly moved away from that message as the fiscal-cliff fight consumed Washington and the legislative focus shifted to gun control and immigration. Senior Administration officials acknowledge that there were trade-offs to Obama’s efforts on both pieces of legislation, in that they distracted the White House from talking about the economy.

But now, in preparation for the next fiscal war, Obama is bragging in unambiguous terms. “We took on a housing market that was in free fall,” he said in Phoenix. “We invested in new technologies to reverse our addiction to foreign oil. We changed a tax code that had become tilted a little bit too much in favor of the wealthiest Americans at the expense of working families. We’ve saved the auto industry.”

As budget season approaches, Democrats hope that message can build support for new projects rather than new cuts. “People believe spending is out of control, so we just acknowledge spending is out of control — we don’t try to tell them the truth, and I think that is a mistake,” O’Malley said. “We need to do a better job as a party talking about the fact that the President has actually reduced the deficit.”

MORE: Is the U.S. Economy Coming Back to Life?

34 comments
curriek679
curriek679

What an absolute crock. Accomplishments??!! You gotta be kidding me.

a.navin.johnson
a.navin.johnson

Let's look at the surplus we had before Bush and then how Bush left us when he finally left office. Now look at us when Obama took over and today.  And you all still love Bush don't you. I think Obama has done a heck of a job. Not saying it could be better. But, still a heck of a job.

midwestrefugee1
midwestrefugee1

Yeah Obama is doing such an awesome job as president......BAHAHAHA!!!!!

roknsteve
roknsteve

Most of the cowardly republican politicians have never served in the military.  Big mouth do nothing old farts who need to get out of the way.   

notLostInSpace
notLostInSpace

Hard sell.  People are not prospering for one thing; I know I'm not and neither is anyone I know; we are all living hand to mouth.  Faux and friends are at it 24/7.  The R's hold the House and their message is also 24/7.  People don't investigate and are not critical thinkers.  Not enough read (hence the demise of NY Times, Wash Post, Boston Globe, etc.).  Too many get their news from the internet, Colbert, Bill O'reilly, etc. 

jmac
jmac

". . . not to mention the danger of appearing too eager to pat himself on the back."

Why is that only a problem for Democrats?   Why does it stick in Republicans craw that the man actually has done some good as our American President?  Something we certainly can't say of the last Republican president who had no problem bragging in his jump suit with his manhood in clear outline, as he bragged about the DOW as the economy was on a cliff and he tooted the "ownership" society in his State of the Union?     Then, during the collapse and what to do about it, he withdraws from the meeting by saying he's no economist.   Well, the Democratic nominee,  Obama,  was in that meeting and took over with Geithner in his ear.

It might  be a center-right Republican sluggish recovery, but recovery it is - with no help from Republicans,  


PaulDirks
PaulDirks

You would think that an article that points out that our deficit is dropping rapidly would also mention that Republicans are routinely lying about that simple fact. It would be useful information.


MrObvious
MrObvious

Feel free to stick it to the 'wingers. They haven't authored anything for the economy outside austerity and tax breaks. Instead they've even filibustered jobs bills.

The recovery is despite their obstruction and the slow pace because of it.


ThomasGrinley
ThomasGrinley

This was quite humorous. Thanks for the chuckle. 

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

I'd challenge the upcoming repeat R obstruction by going back to jobs (like the R-led House ever has done so, but I digress). We need to get everyone back to work to turn the economy around for good - the unemployment rate is still 14% (U-6 rate), after all. If the private sector remains hesitant to hire, then the public sector needs to step up (think WPA). Europe proved beyond any doubt you can't cut your way to prosperity. Naturally, the R's in Congress refuse to face reality.

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@curriek679 Manufacturing up, housing up, stocks up, more private sector jobs added in 4 1/2 years than Bush did in 8. And all this despite the fact that according to the Fed Chair GOP fiscal policies in the House are killing jobs.

curriek679
curriek679

First of all, there really was no surplus; the national debt continuedcto grow under Clinton. Second, Obama managed to increase the debt by 5 trillion in five years. I guess that was an accomplishment. Yeah, you've done a hekuva job, Barack.

JonathanCollins
JonathanCollins

@roknsteve My brother is a Republican, having served in Kuwait, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Our late father, also a Republican, served in the Korean War. My cousin served in Vietnam. So who the hell are you?

manlyman
manlyman

Recovery it ain't, dimbulb.

TyPollard
TyPollard

@jmac 

You would think good news is good news for all Americans, but nooooooo. It's unseemly "bragging" that wouldn't even be necessary if people like Zeke would give an accurate representation of the information and context.

Oat71
Oat71

@PaulDirks Yes the Deficit is shrinking you are correct, but remember the National debt is still growing.  The deficit will fall to about 600 billion dollars this year.  That means the national debt increases by 600 billion. The national debt is 1 trillion dollars larger than the National Debt, Food stamps are increasing every day, and have been since the 90's, Poverty is up and still going up,  part time jobs are somewhere between 60-70% of all jobs being created, Wealth gap is increasing, Fed is throwing 85 billion dollars a month into the banking sector.  Once voters like you and others on this site realize that it is both parties that have created this mess, then maybe we can vote some guys that will actually do something different.  And save it about Obama is different, He has been in office since 2006 (senate), The democrats controlled Congress from 2006-10 and there was no difference.  And remember Congress, the House makes the budget, Pres just signs.  Democrats and Republican politicians in DC are a joke

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@PaulDirks"People believe spending is out of control..."

Agreed. The entire mainstream press refuses to hold the Republicans accountable for their campaigns to disinform the public, even as they attempt to describe the effects.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

@ViableOp "The biggest problem that is facing this government, like all governments, is wasteful spending."

"Wasteful spending" has always been thus and it shall always be thus, in a $2.5 trillion dollar enterprise, just as it is any budget large or small - down to the level of the individual. Furthermore, it's a miniscule portion of the federal budget (if you exclude stupid wars and war machines) that we can easily afford.

The biggest problem that is facing this government is restoring a thriving middle-class. Period.

Oat71
Oat71

@deconstructiva The reason Austerity didn't work in Europe is because it was too late!  That was forced, there was no money!  If you cut before you have to cut, that is Austerity that can work.  Those countries over there were asking for bailouts. If they would have started making cuts or adjustments 10 years ago they would have been fine.  But you know what?  Politicians, Bush, Obama, and any other politician in DC and those in Europe, lie.  They will never try to cut back their spending, why?  They won't get elected.  I want someone to lead that can make the tough choices, Not like President Obama or Boehner who sit there and just show boat and do nothing, but blame.

ZacPetit
ZacPetit

@deconstructiva "Europe proved beyond any doubt you can't cut your way to prosperity."

While I agree with you, technically they proved that they can't cut their way to prosperity. The US and European countries are two entirely different animals when it comes to our economies, and what works here may not work there and vice-versa. It is inappropriate to assume the results of austerity would be similar in the US without careful analysis... though it should be noted that this goes both ways (pro and con arguments).

MrObvious
MrObvious

@deconstructiva 

Europe also proved that you can stimulate yourself out of it. Countries that cut failed and continue to fail, while countries like Germany that stimulated themselves out of it remains about the only sputtering bright spot in Europe.

jmac
jmac

@JonathanCollins @roknsteve  Did you miss the word "politician"?   Republicans have always used and abused the military (they do love those military weapons, though, especially in their own districts).   Reagan was a master at military buildup in California companies - as he slashed our benefits and tripled the National Debt.   

It's not surprising that military men can't see the abuse - the Christian right has yet to figure out they are also used and abused by Republican politicians.   

manlyman
manlyman

What good news? Since when did we confuse collapse with recovery?

bobcn
bobcn

@TyPollard @jmac

When Obama was first elected the gop had no trouble repeatedly announcing that 'It's his economy now' , and they immediately began criticizing him for it (sometimes even before Obama took office).   They were eager to hang the wreckage of the previous republican administration around his neck and not only declare that he 'owned it' but that he should be blamed for it since it wasn't instantly repaired -- not that the gop did anything other interfere with his efforts.  For example:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704224004574489530713762884.html

They also consider it necessary to ridicule anyone who mentions what Obama 'inherited'.  They have to -- they are trying to erase the disastrous results of 8 years of republican control from the public's memory.

Now that the economy is healing they no longer chant 'it's his economy now'.  Instead they expect him to deny that he has anything to do with the improvements -- and they continue to demand that no one mention the mess that was 'inherited'.

Oat71
Oat71

@shepherdwong @ViableOp Something you and I agree.  Biggest problem is the dying middle class.  We will look like Saudi Arabia in the not too distant future


jmac
jmac

@Oat71 @deconstructiva  Clinton cut spending, made big cuts in the Government, put a tax on the wealthy (the economy boomed) and closed the gap between the rich and poor.

One party has been responsible on the economy; one party just cares about Wall Street.    All you have to do to figure out which is which is read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.  

tom.litton
tom.litton

@ZacPetit @deconstructiva While I agree that you have a point, there are 2 things to keep in mind:

1. Britain has it's own currency, so it should be similar (fyi, austerity there has caused unemployment to go up).

2.  If you look at Europe as a whole, it is much more similar.  Not exact, but much closer than looking at individual countries. 

Plus, those that are for austerity here are using the same arguments as those that predicted austerity would work in Europe. 


roknsteve
roknsteve

@manlyman Uh oh, it's manlyman again with a mouth as big as a dump truck but says nothing but negative trash.  .

bobcn
bobcn

@Oat71 @bobcn @TyPollard @jmac

"Just remember though who made the budgets the last 2 years of the Bush years."

Oat71,

Thank you for (no doubt unintentionally) demonstrating my point.  

After the crash of the economy in '08, and the republican re-discovery of an aversion to the deficits that the Bush supply-side tax policies created (an aversion which somehow only appeared with the election of Obama), the gopers mantra was 'it's Obama's economy now'.  And they've been eager to blame him for every problem ever since -- whether gopers were in control of the House (and conducting historic obstruction in the Senate) or not.  

But when the results of 8 years of a republican administration are pointed out, their response is the exact opposite of 'it was Bush's economy then'.  Instead they do everything possible to deflect responsibility for the failure of Bush's and their policies.  Instead of 'it was Bush's economy then' we hear:  don't blame us for the results of our policies, blame those other guys.  For them It is 'Obama's economy now' but somehow not  'Bush's economy then'

jmac
jmac

@Oat71 @bobcn @TyPollard @jmac Did you miss the Bush/Cheney economic mantra - "Reagan proved deficits don't matter"?   Honest to God, Bush truly didn't believe deficits mattered.  (Their hero was Coolidge!)    It's not a State Secret.    His doubling of the National Debt was an even bigger increase than Reagan tripling it.

You wake up.    

Oat71
Oat71

@bobcn @TyPollard @jmac You are a fan of the democrats which is fine.  Just remember though who made the budgets the last 2 years of the Bush years.  Yep the Democrats, included is Obama.  It was his mess too along with every other Republican and Democrat in office.  But go ahead and tell half truths.  Wake up.