Count on it: In the coming days and weeks, Republicans will be accused — not just by Democrats, but also by the chattering class, which includes some self-styled conservatives — of wild irresponsibility regarding the nation’s fiscal health. It isn’t that Republicans are models of rectitude on the subject — see the Bush deficits. And it’s true that some Republicans, such as Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, have fetishized their opposition to taxes to the point where they defend pot-valiantly even tax subsidies such as those for ethanol. It’s enough to make you think they’re drinking the stuff. Still, when it comes to chaperoning America toward bankruptcy, the Democrats have no peers.
Here are some facts to keep in mind:
In February 2010, President Obama formally acknowledged that debt and deficits were potentially fatal problems for the United States. Declaring that “for far too long, Washington has avoided the tough choices necessary to solve our fiscal problems,” Obama appointed a deficit commission to make recommendations about controlling America’s skyrocketing debt. “I’m confident,” the president blustered, “that the commission I’m establishing today will build a bipartisan consensus to put America on the path toward fiscal reform and responsibility. I know they’ll take up their work with the sense of integrity and strength of commitment that America’s people deserve and America’s future demands.”
They did take up their work in that spirit. The president and his party were another matter. A majority of commission members issued a report in December 2010. Saying, “America cannot be great if we go broke,” the report called for ambitious spending cuts (reducing spending to 21 percent of GDP over the next quarter-century from its current rate of more than 25 percent), dramatic tax reforms, and sweeping changes to entitlement programs, including narrowing eligibility for the wealthy and increasing the retirement age. “The era of debt denial is over and there can be no turning back,” the Bowles/Simpson commission concluded. “In the words of Senator Tom Coburn, ‘We keep kicking the can down the road, and splashing the soup all over our grandchildren.’”
Members of the Republican House leadership issued a respectful response, demurring on some points: “This is a provocative proposal, and while we have concerns with some of their specifics, we commend the co-chairs for advancing the debate.” Nancy Pelosi, on the other hand, pronounced the proposal “simply unacceptable.”
The president ignored the report entirely — choosing to douse the grandchildren.
Unlike Republicans under President Bush, Democrats were in full control of the federal government from January 2009 until January 2011. Despite a 77-seat Democratic majority in the House, an 18-seat Democratic majority in the Senate, and a Democrat in the White House, Congress in 2010 failed to pass a budget for the first time since budget rules were enacted in 1974. Budgets are clarifying. So is the failure to produce one.
President Obama submitted a proposed budget in February that didn’t come close to accounting for the structural increase in spending his health-care plan would impose forever on the U.S. economy. The Democrat-dominated Senate voted it down 97–0. Two months later, with much fanfare, the president, in a highly tendentious and partisan speech, declared his February budget to be superseded by a new approach to the deficit problem. When members of the House Budget Committee asked Douglas Elmendorf, director of the Congressional Budget Office, to evaluate the president’s “budget framework,” Elmendorf was at a loss: “We don’t estimate speeches. We need much more specificity than was provided in that speech for us to do our analysis.”
The Republicans, by contrast, passed a budget within three months of retaking a majority in the House. The Ryan budget was hardly a libertarian’s dream — it permits federal spending to continue to increase by 2.8 percent per year for ten years and contemplates permitting government spending to stay as high as 20 percent of GDP. But the Obama/Democratic de facto budget will increase spending by 4.7 percent per year, keeping spending at more than 24 percent of GDP for the next decade. Since tax revenues have averaged about 18 percent of GDP since World War II, Obama’s budget, even with dramatic tax increases, ensures fiscal insanity.
President Obama’s two chosen chairmen of the deficit commission, Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson, lauded the Ryan budget as “a serious, honest, straightforward approach.” The president’s budget, they said, “goes nowhere close.”
In debt-ceiling negotiations, the president has reportedly threatened to “go to the people with this.” By “this,” the president presumably means an invitation to national decline, Democrat-style.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2011 Creators Syndicate, Inc.