- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2011

There were two major political announcements this week, one from President Obama and the other from a leading House Republican. The content of each tells more than you need to know about the direction of the two parties and the tenor of the upcoming presidential campaign.

The country is facing a third consecutive year of trillion-dollar deficits and unemployment near 9 percent. We are now involved in a third war in the Middle East. Health care and energy costs are rising again and Mr. Obama announced his campaign for re-election.

That election is not for another 18 months. The Democratic convention is 15 months away. The president has no primary opponent and no primaries to win, but why wait when there’s a billion dollars to be raised and so many speeches to give?

The president is good at campaigning. He gives a great speech, interacts well with crowds and can truly offer an inspirational message. The problem is that he already is the president and should be doing the things he talks about doing on the campaign trail.

For instance, he will talk on the stump about the need to get federal spending under control. But as president, he just submitted a budget plan that does nothing about the fiscal crisis we face. If re-elected, his deficits will exceed the deficits of our first 43 chief executives combined. He’ll also talk on the stump about the need to create jobs but as president he has presided over one of the most anemic recoveries on record. Members of both political parties have decried his lack of leadership on the key issues of economic growth and deficit reduction.

Across town, House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan is at work doing the hard business of governing, doing what the president won’t do. He has submitted proposals to reduce the president’s budget by $6 trillion over the next decade. He has suggested long-overdue reforms to the giant entitlements Medicare and Medicaid. Both are currently fee-for-service programs growing at unsustainable rates, but he would convert Medicare into a subsidized insurance plan and Medicaid to block grants for states to run their own health programs for the poor. As Mr. Ryan noted, “there is no one saying that Medicare can stay on its current path.”

Does that include the president? Who knows? He says reforms to entitlement programs are needed, but never quite gets around to saying anything specific about what those reforms might look like. His announcement email this week contains a video with nice graphics, nice people, nice music and absolutely nothing else. The content-free campaign has begun.

The “smart” political observers in the media, the White House and at the Democratic National Committee will chuckle and say that Republicans are now on record as advocating unpopular cuts. They will say that the public favors cuts in principle, but never specific ones and certainly not these. They’ll plan to run in 2012 advocating no major changes and vague reforms while never getting specific. That’s the way it has always worked.

The betting here is that this time it will be different. This time, the public will demand that both parties say something specific and credible about our economic future and the need to get our fiscal house in order. The party that tries to hide behind generalities and bromides will lose, not win. The betting here is that America is finally willing to confront our economic crisis.

It cannot come a moment too soon.

Frank Donatelli is chairman of GOPAC.

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