President Obama established a bipartisan debt-reduction commission — and then ignored its findings, which called for unpopular reductions in entitlements and across-the-board spending cuts. His first two budgets led to the largest deficits in U.S. history. The ensuing $3 trillion in red ink gave rise to the Tea Party movement and led to the largest midterm defeat of the Democratic party in the House of Representatives since 1938.
No matter. The president has proposed a new budget with an even larger $1.6 trillion deficit. That record federal borrowing prompted columnist Charles Krauthammer to describe it as a Louis XV indulgence, an allusion to the wild royal spending that brought about the French Revolution. Even Newsweek editor-at-large Evan Thomas, who once gushed that Obama stood “above the world” as some “sort of God,” called the president’s new budget a “profile in cowardice.” After Obama leaves office, a perfect storm of rising international interest rates, an anemic dollar, and panic on the part of foreign lenders may force an end to this unhinged American rush to borrow and blow what it has not earned.
Gas prices in many parts of the country are nearing $4 a gallon; it could get even worse as unrest spreads throughout the oil-exporting Middle East. Yet the Obama administration once again seems to see no crisis. It has curtailed new leases for offshore oil exploration for seven years and exempted thousands of acres in the West from new drilling. It will not reconsider opening up small areas of Alaska with known large oil reserves.
Instead, the administration in 2009 pushed cap-and-trade legislation through the House on the dubious proposition that, in times of unusually cold American winters, the planet is warming up. Accordingly, the administration would like to tax further the already high price of fossil fuels rather than go all out to look for more. Yet importing more oil from abroad and growing more subsidized biofuels at home will lead to a disastrous trifecta of borrowing even more money, ensuring greater global pollution, and causing higher world food prices.
Obamacare — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — was pushed through the Senate in 2009 through backroom deal-making and special perks for fence-sitting senators. The premise was that it would save both patients and the nation billions of dollars. But updated estimates now suggest that the takeover of health care will cost the country about $2 trillion over the next decade while disrupting and making more costly existing health plans.
That worry may explain why the administration has quietly granted waivers from its own “affordable” plan to some 700 organizations covering 2 million workers — 40 percent of them union members. Long after the president has left office, everyone else who is not so privileged to be exempted will have to live with the consequence of a cumbersome and costly new federal health bureau.
The president just weighed in on the Wisconsin budget deadlock, suggesting that Gov. Scott Walker was out to punish public-sector unions rather than figure out a way to close a $3 billion state deficit. But unlike the federal government, Walker cannot print money, and he cannot so easily raise taxes without losing residents who might flee to lower-tax states. That the president wants unions to know he is on their side is clear; that he cares how the people of Wisconsin are going to pay for sky-high public-employee wages, benefits, and health care is not so evident.
In these lean times of nearly 10 percent unemployment and rapid hikes in gas and food prices, the president has chastised “fat cat” Wall Street bankers, the wealthy who jet to the Super Bowl, and those who junket to Las Vegas, and in general suggested that strapped American families might wish to “sacrifice” and “put off a vacation.” But in “let them eat cake” style, the first family seems tone-deaf to the potential symbolism of postponing its own exclusive vacations. Michelle Obama just returned from skiing at an elite Vail, Colo., resort. Last summer, in Marie Antoinette fashion, she jetted to Costa del Sol in Spain for a costly Mediterranean vacation. The rich playground at Martha’s Vineyard, not Camp David, seems now to be the favorite presidential recession-era getaway spot.
Shortly after Barack Obama leaves office, we are all going to have to eat cake. Then a less eloquent president will have to balance budgets, pay off trillions in new debt, develop more energy, come up with a sane health-care policy, and in symbolic fashion have the first family share the sacrifice of a more mundane lifestyle.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. (C) 2011 Tribune Media Services, Inc.