President Barack Obama's inaugural address, which outlined his liberal agenda for the next four years, shows the nation's leader is off to a “rocky start” while trying to convince a politically divided Congress to endorse his programs, says John Fund, the National Review Institute's national affairs columnist.
In an exclusive interview at the National Review Institute's summit on the future of conservatism, Fund said that Obama detailed a progressive agenda that included global warming, gay marriage, women in combat and more in his inaugural address.
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Fund said that such speeches are traditionally intended to be a unifying message and "you kind of don't want to make it a campaign speech or a laundry list of State of the Union priorities.”
President Obama's speech, however, was "blatantly ideological" and "clearly designed to unite the president's base and not the entire country."
Meanwhile, even though Republican nominee Mitt Romney lost the November election, the popular vote was close — 51 percent to 48 percent, said Fund.
“I think if you look at what happened below the presidential level, yes the Senate seats were a disaster because the Republicans lost a couple of close races,” Fund said. “The Republicans retained the House with a very strong majority. They won 30 out of the 50 governorships, the most they've had in recent memory, and they have control of a majority or new majority of state legislatures.”
This means the GOP still has a lot of strength, particularly at state and local levels.
“We're going to see the Republicans use the states as laboratories of democracy to incubate conservative ideas,” predicts Fund. “We'll see the House of Representatives try to block the worst of President Obama's initiatives and hope there can be some compromise and resolution on some because I don't think we can let entitlements go on the way they are for the next four years without having the debt crisis that Paul Ryan warned us about . . . here at the National Review Summit.”
Republicans also want to replace automatic spending cuts through changes to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid even as Obama and fellow Democrats push for more revenue.
Fund doesn't think there will be an agreement on entitlement reform.
“That's pretty clear from the president's speech, unless there's the debt crisis and then everything goes out the window and then we start over,” Fund said. “People can't remain in their fixed trench warfare positions if that happens.”
He said automatic spending cuts will also start to kick in.
“Remember the Senate hasn't passed the budget since 2009,” Fund said. “That means we are funding our government right now with something called continuing resolutions. Every few months the Congress says we're going to continue spending for all existing programs at the old levels, we're just going to continue that into the future for a while. That expires March 27.”
But Fund noted that even if the government shuts down, everything doesn't close, as Social Security checks will still be mailed and programs like Medicare will continue on.
“What it does mean is certain parts of the government that are viewed as nonessential don't operate,” said Fund. “We will have that kind of government shut down and who wins that will dictate a large part, whether the political advantage of the policy advantage goes to the Democrats or to the Republicans.”
Meanwhile, Paul Ryan is working on a budget with hopes of balancing it in 10 years, a plan Fund says will work.
“The key to this is we've had a stagnant economy ever since 2008 and people can say (former President George W.) Bush started it but Obama had four years to fix it and economic growth is below 2 percent,” he said. “So Paul Ryan's 10-year balanced budget works if we have economic growth. Even if he doesn't get 10 years, you have to put down a marker in the sand and say that's our goal.”
The president, though, has done all he can to crush Republicans, Fund said.
“The bottom line, though, is because our problems are so severe, at some point, you have to put the politics in the background and actually govern,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration was shot down by a federal court with respect to its policy of making appointments without holding confirmation hearings.
“This has created a real mess at the National Labor Relations Board where he made some of these unconstitutional appointments because everything they've done for the last year is now null and void, and that leaves a lot of businesses in more uncertainty,” Fund said.
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