Why Obama’s Deficit Speech Fell Short

The president shared his plan to reduce the federal deficit by some $4 trillion over the next 12 years during a major speech today. Howard Kurtz on what was missing.

04.13.11 3:53 PM ET

In his eat-your-peas speech Wednesday, President Obama excelled at eviscerating the GOP budget plan as slashing away at worthy programs and leading to “a fundamentally different America”--one that would screw everyone from college students to Medicare patients who would get cheapo vouchers.

He also slammed Paul Ryan’s proposed tax breaks for the wealthy that would reduce his own bill by $200,000 on the backs of seniors—neither he nor Warren Buffett needs the money.

But when it came to his blueprint for slashing the deficit by $4 trillion over 12 years, Obama painted in the broadest strokes. He would cut Pentagon spending (he didn’t say how), while protecting medical research, clean energy, new airports, job training and on and on. He would cut spending on prescription drugs through negotiations and slow Medicare spending through an independent commission. Good luck with that.

The one place he was specific was in taking on the wealthy—not just by killing their Bush-era tax cuts, but by limiting itemized deductions for the richest 2 percent on home ownership and charitable deductions. (Lobbyists are mobilizing as we speak.) And there was some sort of mandatory meeting for more cuts in 2014 if they fall short of targets, a sort of Balanced Budget Lite.

The president closed with an appeal for Reagan/O’Neill bipartisanship and a paean to messy democracy. But by limiting his pitch to general themes, by failing to fill in the blanks, he ensured that it will get even messier. Once again, Obama is taking the high rhetorical ground while largely leaving the details to others.