Obama goes to the moral heart

Budget speech is about his vision of America, not just about money

It was gratifying to see President Obama get to the moral heart of the competing visions of America provided by his budget policies and those approved by the Republicans in the House. There are good reasons why he titled his April 13 talk “The Country We Believe In.” It’s a visionary speech, one all Americans should read.

America has always been a country of rugged individualists who also have empathy for their fellow citizens and share “a belief that we are all connected; and that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation,” the president said. And so we lay down roads and highways and build schools and airports, knowing that this investment will make us more prosperous and healthy as a nation.

Similarly, we provide a measure of security for our citizens against the vagaries and difficulties of life, such as illness, old age and loss of job, knowing that what benefits one benefits all and that “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Since 2000, however, we’ve lost our way financially, initiating two wars and an expensive Medicare drug program while at the same time reducing taxes on the wealthiest Americans, actions that could be paid for only by borrowing money. As a result our annual deficits and national debt have skyrocketed.

Then, entering office, the president was confronted with the worst recession since the Great Depression and had no choice but to borrow yet more money to save jobs and keep the economy from spiraling down into outright depression.

The Republican budget paints “a vision of our country that’s deeply pessimistic,” he said. By calling for a 70 percent cut to clean energy, a 25 percent cut in education, a 30 percent cut in transportation, as well as cuts in Pell Grants, it tells “us we can’t afford the America we believe in. … It’s a vision that says if our roads crumble and our bridges collapse, we can’t afford to fix them. If there are bright young Americans who have the drive and the will but not the money to go to college, we can’t send them.”

And it tells seniors that in 10 years they will have to rely on vouchers for health care. “And if that voucher isn’t worth enough to buy insurance, tough luck—you’re on your own. Put simply, it ends Medicare as we know it.

“Worst of all,” the president continued, “this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy. … That’s not right, and it’s not going to happen as long as I’m president.”

The president concluded by appealing to Americans’ shared sense of purpose. “The America I know is generous and compassionate; a land of opportunity and optimism,” he said. “… We are the nation that built a railroad across a continent and brought light to communities shrouded in darkness. We sent a generation to college on the GI bill and saved millions of seniors from poverty with Social Security and Medicare .…

“This is who we are. This is the America I know. We don’t have to choose between a future of spiraling debt and one where we forfeit investments in our people and our country. To meet our fiscal challenge, we will need to make reforms. We will all need to make sacrifices. But we do not have to sacrifice the America we believe in. And as long as I’m president, we won’t.”

The budget is only technically about dollars and cents. At its core it’s about right and wrong. If you agree with President Obama’s vision of an America we can believe in, let your representatives know.