Damn the deficit, full speed ahead
Christmas is over, and President Barack Obama wants to pay some of the bills. Unfortunately, he also wants to pull out the government credit cards to embark on an even more astonishing spending spree than what the country has witnessed under both Republicans and Democrats over the past decade.
That’s the message of the $3.8 trillion budget the Obama administration released this week — a budget that even some Obama supporters are questioning.
For instance, The Washington Post, which endorsed Obama, called the budget’s debt forecasts “terrifying numbers” and suggested the president has abandoned his pledge to make hard choices about the budget.
We agree. The Obama budget posits frightening deficits over the next decade that threaten any long-term economic recovery. And that’s if everything goes as he predicts.
There’s little question that the United States was living above its means even before the recession hit. A free-spending Congress controlled by Republicans and supported by a Republican president passed an unaffordable Medicare prescription drug benefit, and funded two wars with little consideration of how to pay for them. And Congress, whether under GOP or Democratic control, allowed members unchecked budget earmarks to buy votes.
Obama’s budget understandably seeks to pay for some of those bills by rescinding the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, and raising taxes in a number of other areas.
But, like a shopper intoxicated by the latest consumer gadgets, Obama can’t control his own urge to spend, even as he talks about the need for fiscal responsibility.
From the $3 trillion budget when Obama took office, federal spending would grow to $5.7 trillion by 2020 under the president’s budget. And the deficit will grow accordingly.
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid would account for roughly half of all federal spending in 2020. But new programs to aid low-income families, to encourage green industry and alternative energy and to provide ever greater funding for K-12 and higher education would also do much to balloon federal spending.
There’s money to help with job creation in the Obama budget, but as The Wall Street Journal noted, the greatest jobs program under Obama is the federal government itself. Non-military federal employment will top 2.1 million this year, a 14. 5 percent jump just since 2008. This when businesses and state and local governments have been furiously cutting jobs to survive the recession.
Furthermore, the Obama budget counts on some revenue that is dubious, to say the least. It assumes two unknowables: first, that the Senate health care bill will pass; second, that it will result in $150 billion in savings to the treasury over the next decade.
But, as even many Democrats now say, health care reform is on the back burner. While reform is still needed, it is unlikely to come in the form of a massive bill like those considered in Congress last year. And even if such a bill were to pass, the savings are far from certain.
The country needs to pay many of the bills it amassed in recent years, as the Obama budget calls for. We need to contemplate difficult changes to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. But going on a massive new spending splurge is not in the nation’s interest.
Here’s hoping a Congress chastened by recent electoral action will push back from the trough long enough to curb the president’s spending lust.