Ball Four


President Obama’s fourth budget promises a fourth straight year of trillion-dollar deficits, a fourth straight year of masking new spending with lame gimmickry, and a fourth straight year of asking Congress to yoke the American people with a historically massive tax hike. It is a budget with all the courage and resolve of an intentional walk, and just in time for spring training.

It is a budget that spends a staggering $47 trillion over ten years and capitulates to the inevitability of a national debt larger than the national economy, assuring that by 2022 our interest payments alone will reach $1 trillion a year. It is a budget that hikes income, estate, and other taxes by $1.9 trillion over ten years, and uses that revenue not to reduce the deficit or shore up our existing entitlement commitments but on a raft of new stimuli that are as substantively dubious as they are politically opportunistic.

It is a budget that claims $4 trillion in deficit reduction through a series of cheap tricks that don’t stand up to even the gentlest of scrutiny. Fully half of the savings come from the administration’s claiming as its own the $2 trillion in cuts won by congressional Republicans in the debt-limit deal. Some $850 billion comes from not spending war dollars that were never going to be spent anyway. Another $430 billion comes from jury-rigging the baseline to hide the cost of the infamous Medicare “doc fix.” And so on.

Speaking of Medicare, this budget expands the mandate of the proto-rationing body known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board, tightening the gurney straps on seniors by targeting a Medicare growth rate even lower than the one in Obamacare and empowering the unelected body with “additional tools” such as the “ability to consider value-based benefit design.” Translation: IPAB will continue to squeeze the same health-care providers Medicare’s chief actuary has predicted will leave the market in droves in the coming decade, and will get around being prohibited to change patient benefits by calling those changes by a fancier name.

Even with all these gambits and intrigues, this is a budget that relies on sunny economic assumptions. Its revenue projections assume GDP growth more robust than those of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, and there is little reason to think the White House’s projections are soberer. To wit: President Obama’s first budget projected 2010–2012 annual deficits of $1.17 trillion, $912 billion, and $581 billion, respectively. The actual deficits for those years were $1.29 trillion, $1.3 trillion, and (a projected) $1.33 trillion.

This divergence suggests perhaps the most damning indictment of the document President Obama has presented to the American people: that it fails, not just by standards of fiscal rectitude, but by the standards set by Mr. Obama. In February of 2009, the president vowed “to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office” by making “difficult decisions” and facing “challenges we’ve long neglected,” so that our children wouldn’t be left “with a debt they cannot repay.”

But the man who promised to cut annual deficits in half has fallen wildly short of that mark. The man who promised difficult decisions has made none; the man who promised to stand foursquare against challenges long neglected has instead carried that neglect into the last year of his term — and, with any justice, the last year of his presidency.


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