Tomorrow President Obama reveals his 2013 budget blueprint, although the White House’s key initiatives have been leaking for days. As a campaign document, it will be straightforward. Tax increases as a sop to those who blame their economic misery on the affluent and Wall Street. Billions of dollars in new “investments” as the president restarts his successful campaign-as-handout factory.
But the presidency is supposed to be about more than getting and keeping a job. What will the budget say about the United States he governs? According to the aphorism, “budget is policy.” And for the president, this proposed policy constitutes his plan for the future of the nation. What kind of plan can we expect?
We can expect that this will mark his fourth consecutive abdication of core obligations of his office.
We can expect a plan rich with red ink. In his 2010 budget, the president promised a deficit of $1.2 trillion (8 percent of GDP) and economic growth of 3.2 percent. The taxpayers got $1.3 trillion (9 percent of GDP) in additional debt and growth of barely 3 percent. He was just getting started. Fiscal 2011 brought a deficit of $1.3 trillion again (8.7 percent of GDP versus the budgeted amount of 8.3 percent), and growth of 1.7 percent — far short of the promised 3.8 percent. Last year’s budget planned for $1.1 trillion in deficits and growth of 3.6 percent. We don’t know the actual performance yet, but both numbers look optimistic. Now, the leaks indicate that the White House already intends to make the deficit bigger — a sobering step for an administration whose perennial budget strategy appears to be “promise bad, deliver worse.”
We can expect a plan devoid of leadership. Last year’s budget kicked to the gutter the recommendations of the president’s own fiscal-reform commission — the so-called Bowles-Simpson Commission — which had concluded that the United States faced a “moment of truth” that required tax reform, entitlement reform, and genuine leadership to steer us away from a Greek-style fiscal meltdown. The president took a pass in favor of a warmed-over stimulus package, shrugged his shoulders at the downgrade of the United States, and to date has delivered not one single piece of legislation to implement any piece of the Bowles-Simpson plan.
We can expect a budget that does a disservice to future seniors and needy Americans. The federal social safety net is tattered. Social Security is running $60 billion of red ink right now and is kept “solvent” only by the callous promise to cut future retirees’ benefits by 23 percent across the board during what is supposed to be their halcyon days. At present the gap between Medicare’s payroll taxes and premium receipts flowing into the Treasury and the checks going out totals a staggering $280 billion. With 10,000 new seniors entering the rolls every day, Medicare will fall under its own fiscal weight. So much for the next generation of seniors. Lastly, Medicaid provides substandard care for low-income Americans, burdens states’ budgets, and is essentially deficit-financed. Yet no Obama budget has had a plan to preserve the social safety net for future generations. Don’t hold your breath for one this year.
We can expect short shrift for small businesses and workers. Despite the promise of red ink as far as the eye can see, and a record of reality being worse, the 2013 Obama budgetwill also have at its core a plan to burden small businesses with higher taxes. But you can be sure that it will not contain a tax-reform plan that would permit workers in America’s global firms to compete on a level playing field around the globe, experience more rapid economic growth at home, and end Obama’s habit of using the policy levers to distribute goodies to the favored constituencies. On the economic policy front, the mantra is simple “tax more, spend more, and don’t fix either.”
We can expect a budget that clashes with the president’s own “built to last” mantra. On the campaign trail, expect the president to eloquently pin his failures on others, roll out one made-for-media “blueprint” after another, and pander his way to another term with promises of a brighter future. His actual plans have contained no such hope.
But most of all, we can expect a budget that is an insult to the next generations. America has a proud tradition of delivering to each successive generation a nation that is secure, solvent, and more prosperous than the last. Obama’s printed plan for the next generations will be to ask them to pay the astronomical bill for his largesse, his failure to reform what’s broken, and his indifference to the social safety net. And they will be asked to do so while inheriting an economy broken by the weight of debt and downgrade.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan.” It’s time to stop wishing and start planning.