Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Obama's spending problem

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
updated 7:14 AM EST, Thu January 10, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: National debt doesn't look like a priority for President Obama
  • Bennett: Obama more concerned with his legacy rather than our economic well-being
  • He asks why the president is so unwilling to cut the size and scope of government
  • Bennett: GOP should make it clear that it will fulfill our debt obligations in a responsible way

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- Second terms, untainted by re-election posturing, often reveal a president's true governing philosophy. In the case of President Obama, two recent revelations have confirmed all we may need to know about his agenda for the next four years.

On December 30, the president sat down for an interview with David Gregory on "Meet the Press." Gregory asked the president, "So what is your single priority of the second term? What is the equivalent to health care?"

President Obama replied, "Well, there are a couple of things that we need to get done. I've said that fixing our broken immigration system is a top priority. I will introduce legislation in the first year to get that done." He went on to say, "The second thing that we've got to do is to stabilize the economy and make sure it's growing."

William Bennett
William Bennett

During his first term in office, coming off "the worst recession since the Great Depression," to use the president's own words, it appeared to many that he prioritized Obamacare over the economy. Now it appears that the economy, and all that goes along with it, like the ever-growing national debt, will again play second fiddle, this time to immigration reform.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



If priorities are any reflection of politics, it appears the president is more concerned with what he regards as historic, landmark legislation to build his legacy, rather than the economic well-being of the nation. If that seems like a harsh assessment, consider that just this week we learned from Stephen Moore's interview of House Speaker John Boehner in the Wall Street Journal that the president told Boehner during the fiscal cliff negotiations, "We don't have a spending problem."

If $16 trillion of national debt and the huge deficits each year aren't spending problems, then what is? The United States most certainly has a spending problem. For the president to insist otherwise is dumbfounding but at the same time entirely consistent with his policies.

He called for the Simpson-Bowles Commission on deficit reduction, but ignored their recommendations. He campaigned ad nauseam about the need for a balanced approach to deficit reduction, but the latest fiscal cliff deal is almost entirely tax hikes and even includes more stimulus spending. The only spending cuts he agreed to, the sequestration cuts, he had announced during one of the presidential debates "will not happen."

Dems push for $1 trillion tax revenue
Let's make a deal

There seems to be a near invincible unwillingness by this president and his advisors to cut the size and scope of government. How then do conservatives negotiate the coming debt ceiling extension, especially when they control neither the White House nor the Senate?

There is no easy answer, but perhaps they should begin by explaining to the American people "the politics of reality," as William Buckley aptly defined conservatism.

The recent elections seem to indicate that a majority of the American people want lower taxes for themselves but approve of the president's increased spending programs. In the end, they cannot have both. A vibrant and prosperous private sector cannot coexist with a one-size-fits-all caretaker state. One relies on low taxes and limited government interference, the other on high taxes and government redistribution of resources.

So Americans must choose between the two and conservatives must make that choice clear: higher taxes, higher spending and more government services, or opportunity and upward mobility with lower taxes and less government interference.

The debt ceiling is just the first of many opportunities to bring this choice to the public. Republicans should make it clear that they will fulfill our debt obligations in a responsible manner, but they will only give the president short-term debt ceiling extensions until we get this problem under control. If Obama doesn't want to cut spending in a meaningful way he's going to have to explain that to the American people every couple of months for the next four years.

The purpose isn't to thrash the president and his party or be ideological shock troops, as Ronald Reagan once warned against, but to hold a national education seminar on fiscal responsibility. Republicans have not won the argument, and will not win it, when these fiscal deals are made behind closed doors before the strike of midnight.

Sunlight is the best disinfectant and so too in politics. Republicans can win the argument by making a clear and cogent public articulation of the president's spending problem and how the American people, especially the lower and middle classes, will be the ones to suffer as a result.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:05 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
updated 1:23 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
updated 3:38 PM EDT, Mon September 15, 2014
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 04: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell walks the sidelines prior to the game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers at CenturyLink Field on September 4, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Martha Pease says the NFL commissioner shouldn't be judge and jury on player wrongdoing.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
It's time for a much needed public reckoning over U.S. use of torture, argues Donald P. Gregg.
updated 8:25 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Peter Bergen says UK officials know the identity of the man who killed U.S. journalists and a British aid worker.
updated 7:28 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Joe Torre and Esta Soler say much has been achieved since a landmark anti-violence law was passed.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
David Wheeler wonders: If Scotland votes to secede, can America take its place and rejoin England?
updated 8:41 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Jane Stoever: Society must grapple with a culture in which 1 in 3 teen girls and women suffer partner violence.
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
World-famous physicist Stephen Hawking recently said the world as we know it could be obliterated instantaneously. Meg Urry says fear not.
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Bill Clinton's speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president in 1992 went through 22 drafts. But he always insisted on including a call to service.
updated 6:18 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
Joe Amon asks: What turns a few cases of disease into thousands?
updated 1:21 PM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Sally Kohn says bombing ISIS will worsen instability in Iraq and strengthen radical ideology in terrorist groups.
updated 6:31 PM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014
Analysts weigh in on the president's plans for addressing the threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
updated 9:27 AM EDT, Thu September 11, 2014
Artist Prune Nourry's project reinterprets the terracotta warriors in an exhibition about gender preference in China.
updated 9:36 AM EDT, Wed September 10, 2014
The Apple Watch is on its way. Jeff Yang asks: Are we ready to embrace wearables technology at last?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT