Glut the Beast

by J. D. Foster

At the outset of his presidency, Barack Obama began a concerted, sustained campaign to alter fundamentally the size and scope of government: The goal — to supersize government; the strategy — to “glut the beast”; the occasion — the recession. Obama’s most recent budget proposal/campaign stunt is just the latest expression of that strategy.

Liberals recognized long ago the rhetorical usefulness of the reported Reagan doctrine of “starve the beast.” Reagan conservatives understood that the enduring desire to return to an era of smaller government was often inadequate to force Washington to give up big spending. However, the era of big government often led to big budget deficits, deficits the American people opposed. Thus, combining the political support for smaller government with the political support for smaller budget deficits became a more effective strategy for restraining government spending.

Taking a page from their adversaries, liberals believed they could turn this doctrine on its head with a new glut-the-beast strategy. The new strategy is to use the occasion of a deep recession to justify massive spending increases and even bigger government, intentionally leading to massive budget deficits. The next step in the strategy is to acknowledge that the resulting budget deficits are unsustainable, and then to repeat incessantly the mantra that spending reductions alone cannot close the deficits sufficiently, thus leading to the inevitable conclusion that higher taxes are inescapable.

Early in his administration, President Obama signed a huge government-stimulus bill into law. He has since signed multiple lesser efforts into law. Surprising no one, these bills have successfully stimulated government spending, but not the economy.

Obama recently took one last shot at glutting the beast by proposing yet another stimulus plan. He has now followed this up with his proposal to bring the strategy full circle. Having glutted the beast to bursting pulchritude and pushed deficits to stratospheric levels, the administration is moving to its next act: proposing a $3 trillion deficit-reduction plan that includes roughly $1.5 trillion in real tax hikes and nearly $1.5 trillion in phony spending cuts like claiming credit for the phase-down in military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and the ever-popular assault on Medicare waste, fraud, and abuse. Excuse us, Mr. President, but is the wind-down in war fighting a new policy? Is your attention to Medicare overpayments really a new policy, some three years into your administration?

Perhaps no budget plan in modern history was more surely dead on arrival than the latest Obama offering — at least through 2012. And in a very real sense, that’s the point. This plan is a campaign document representing Obama’s vision for America’s future if he is reelected: higher taxes, fewer jobs, bigger government, more budget deficits, and another round of glut the beast.

— J. D. Foster, Ph.D., is Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

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