The Corner

CBO’s Bucket of Cold Water

Here’s a story, posted at Politico, that should alter the coming debates on the budget, health care, energy, and pretty much everything else Congress is planning to consider this year.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is apparently readying a forecast of the president’s budgetary proposals — to be released officially tomorrow — which will show the administration’s overall plan would leave the nation saddled with much more debt than the Obama team had advertised. 

According to the story, CBO is going to say the president’s budget would leave the country with a budget deficit of more than $700 billion in 2014 — well above the administration’s forecast of $570 billion. Over the coming decade, CBO will show the Obama budget adding about $8.4 trillion to the nation’s debt burden, or more than $1.5 more than the Obama team predicted. And there are no signs anywhere in sight that the ugly trend lines will turn in a more favorable direction, even with a growing economy. In 2019, CBO will show the annual budget deficit reaching $1 trillion — and it will only get worse from there as the baby boom ages and drives up retirement and health-care costs.

At least one Democrat, Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, seems to understand how untenable this all is. He is apparently advising his Democratic colleagues and the Obama administration that the budget framework the president submitted to Congress is unworkable and needs a major overhaul, with renewed emphasis on fiscal restraint.

But what are the Democrats going to do? Raise taxes on upper-income households still further? Cut defense still more? Take even more out of private health-insurers and drug companies?

President Obama gambled that he could govern from the left this year. The model is the “stimulus” bill. Secure near-unanimity among Democrats, and a stray Republican or two to ease passage in the Senate.

But it’s one thing for the “Obama coalition” to spend $800 billion “stimulating” the economy, and it’s quite another to carry the political burdens associated with fiscal retrenchment.

CBO’s bucket of cold water should be a wake-up call to Democrats. A partisan governing agenda may bring political rewards, but it carries substantial political risks as well.

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