An Obama-Sized Government

by The Editors

The president has a peculiar understanding of leadership.

By all accounts, federal fiscal policy has now run completely off the rails. Budgetary pressures have been building for years because of unconstrained entitlement spending and Washington’s unchecked appetite for ever-more activist government. But what had been a chronic problem that all involved knew needed corrective action has now become, in the Obama years, a full-fledged disaster in the making.

According to the president’s budget, released yesterday, the federal deficit for 2010 is expected to reach nearly $1.6 trillion, a record. And that would come on top of a $1.4-trillion deficit in 2009 and before another $1.3-trillion deficit in 2011. Between 1789 and 2008, the U.S. government borrowed a total of $5.8 trillion. But in just the first three years of the Obama administration, the government is set borrow $4.4 trillion more.

And even that wouldn’t be the end of it. If the Obama budget is adopted in full, federal borrowing will top $18 trillion by 2020. Over the period 2011 to 2020, the president’s plan is to run deficits totaling an astounding $8.5 trillion.

The problem is quite plainly runaway government spending. The administration employs all kinds of smoke and mirrors in an attempt to dress up massive governmental excess as necessary and restrained investments. But their own bottom-line numbers betray the real story. In 2008, total spending stood at nearly $3.0 trillion — not exactly government on a strict diet. But Obama wants to take the juggernaut he inherited and supersize it. By 2020, governmental spending would reach $5.7 trillion, driven heavily by mounting entitlement costs. Spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid alone would nearly double over a decade, going from $1.4 trillion in 2009 to $2.6 trillion in 2020.

Indeed, the Obama budget spends so freely and recklessly that not even a massive tax increase can stem the flood of red ink. According to the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee, the planned tax hikes in the Obama budget plan exceed $2.3 trillion over ten years, and that doesn’t even count $800 billion from “cap and trade” and about $500 billion from the health-care plan the Democrats continue to push.

In aftermath of Scott Brown’s victory in Massachusetts, even Democrats are beginning to realize that the public is beyond fed up with the Washington spending binge, and rightfully so. Economists of all stripes are sounding the alarm that borrowing at rates contemplated by Obama’s budget to pay for continued enlargement of government is far too risky for the American economy.

And, so, what’s the president’s plan to head off the fiscal and economic crisis that nearly everyone expects will occur if nothing is done? For starters, he wants to ram through Congress a highly partisan health-care plan, drawn up by Democrats behind closed doors with the primary effect of moving all important decision-making in the health sector to Washington. This plan would create another runaway entitlement program and partly “pay for it” with Medicare cuts that will never stand the test of time. It’s a recipe for more explosive spending growth, not less.

In addition, once the health-care program is locked in over unanimous Republican opposition, the president would like to enlist Republican cooperation to pass a massive, bipartisan tax increase to help pay for it and his other spending ideas. The specific tax hikes are not yet known, as they would be proposed by an independent commission of “wise men” handpicked mainly by Democrats to ensure a pre-determined outcome — one they hope is not covered in Democratic fingerprints. For added electoral protection, the commission’s tax-increase recommendations wouldn’t be unveiled and voted on by Congress until after the November elections, all the better to keep the nuisance of public opinion from interfering with the grand Democratic plan to pursue another Great Society.

And they wonder why Republicans are not interested in facilitating this grand plan’s implementation.

As a candidate, Barack Obama promised audacity if elected. On that, he has certainly delivered. But what the country needs is genuine presidential leadership to address daunting economic and budgetary challenges. On that score, he has fallen woefully short, all but assuring that he will end his second year as president with almost nothing to show for his time in office.