Let’s Talk, Barack.

So Barack Obama has a few snide remarks for the tea partiers:

Asked about fiscal discipline and entitlements reform, Obama seemed to be repressing a smile as he jabbed critics of his spending plans.

“Those of you who are watching certain news channels on which I’m not very popular, and you see folks waving tea bags around, Obama said, “let me just remind them that I am happy to have a serious conversation about how we are going to cut our health care costs down over the long term, how we are going to stabilize Social Security.”

“But,” Obama continued, “let’s not play games and pretend that the reason [for the deficit] is because of the Recovery Act.”

Well, a few options… We’ve all written quite a few words here on healthcare and Social Security here. I’d welcome a serious conversation. But I don’t think Obama actually wants a serious conversation if it involves a discussion of the policy proscriptions I’d recommend. For healthcare, I support expanding the free market through severing the tax advantage of employer-based healthcare and thus returning to a model where the patient is typically both the insurance purchaser and payer, giving them a much wider choice of providers and plans than a typical corporate plan full of state-mandated coverages will offer. I think that will do a great job of bringing down costs. For Social Security, my first thought is means-testing the benefits. I’d forego guaranteed benefits in the future if it meant that my SS taxes dropped from 12% of my income to 6% of my income. The nice thing about means-testing is that if my personal investment and retirement plans don’t pan out, the SS plan would be a true “safety net” rather than “entitlement” program.

But his final challenge is worthy of its own response. Obama is projecting a $1.75T deficit. He inherited several hundred billion from Bush, and the economic collapse probably gave him several hundred billion more due to revenue drops. So let’s charitably call half of his deficit, roughly $900B, not his fault. The other $850B, though, is his fault. He’s taking a rough fiscal position for the government and throwing fuel on the fire. For those of us who already feel overtaxed, we know that the endgame of this spending must, by logical necessity, be increased direct taxation or increased indirect (inflation) taxation, probably both. The Recovery Act is a big portion of it. There is a factual argument to support blaming most of the obscene deficits on his spending proposals.

Now, your median tea party protestor may not be ready for this discussion. That protestor realizes simply that spending is going through the roof, and that spending will eventually need to be paid for — with money collected from taxpayers, not from Congress. That protestor may not have the time nor energy to devote to policy wonk analysis of healthcare or Social Security, nor of in-depth fiscal management of government. But that protestor knows that going from spending $3T to nearly $4T, while projecting a drop in revenues, leading to a deficit the size of the 2000 budget, will not end well.

But there are those of us out here who have been paying attention for the last 8 years and longer, and who know the score. Obama may believe that he can flippantly dismiss the grassroots protestors because they may not always be “sophisticated” enough and informed enough to stand and fight for their position. But any time Obama wants to have a chat with us (or more likely our intellectual forebears like the guys from the Reason Foundation or Cato Institute), tell him we’d love to have a “serious conversation”.

Hat Tip: Below the Beltway