President Obama Punts on US Deficit


In February 2009 — having signed into law his $787 billion stimulus package — President Barack Obama made a pledge to the nation. “Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in Washington these past few years,” the president noted, “we cannot simply spend as we please and defer the consequences to the next budget, the next administration or the next generation.” Obama already had noted that he’d “inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit — the largest in our nation’s history.” A month into office, Obama announced, “Today I am pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office.”

He meant well, but it isn’t going to happen.

This week, the administration presented a $3.8 trillion budget. The 2012 fiscal year will close with a $1.3 trillion deficit; the deficit for 2013 is expected to be $900 billion. And that’s assuming Obama can push through $1.5 trillion in tax increases, mostly on the rich, over 10 years — which no one expects to happen.

There’s no appetite to pass the Obama budget in the Democratic-led Senate. White House chief of staff Jack Lew even told CNN: “You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support. So unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, (Majority Leader) Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed.”

It was a telling statement — because it’s not true. As a former budget director, Lew knows that budget bills pass on a majority vote. The Senate passed a 2009 budget resolution with 48 votes.

Last year, the Senate rejected the Obama budget in a resounding 97-0 vote.

Obama’s eager enablers will argue that the president can’t deal with Republicans. Nonsense. Congress is about to cut a deal to extend the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and the “doc fix” to prevent cuts in Medicare payments through the end of the year. The compromise is expected to add $100 billion to the deficit. When a spending bill adds to the deficit, both parties can and do work together.

But to cut the deficit in a meaningful way, the president has to lead.

Obama does not face easy choices. Democrats believe that cutting federal spending could undermine the recovery. Republicans believe that tax increases would do likewise. Members of both parties fear that the other side has a point.

Neither Republicans nor Democrats are willing to tell the public what sacrifices Americans will have to make in order to pay off the $15 trillion national debt. So another year goes by, with another $1 trillion of debt.

If the president aggressively embraced entitlement reform, there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. But Obama punted.

In 2009, the president predicted what will happen if Washington fails to curb the deficit: “We risk sinking into another crisis down the road as our interest payments rise, our obligations come due, confidence in our economy erodes and our children and our grandchildren are unable to pursue their dreams because they’re saddled with our debts.”

With the latest Obama budget, I don’t see any other end in sight.

Email Debra J. Saunders at [email protected]

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