On February 16, at a hearing of the House Budget Committee, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner was asked by committee chairman Paul Ryan to describe the administration’s plans for addressing the mounting risk of a debt crisis. His reply was: “We’re not coming before you today to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem. What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
Today’s presidential speech to the annual Associated Press Luncheon was basically just a long, dishonest way of saying the same astonishingly irresponsible thing. In essence, the president argued that our country’s future depends on allowing our government to grow uncontrollably, and that any attempt to restrain its growth and to keep the size of government in relation to the economy where it was during the fifty years preceding his election would be heartless and irresponsible. Keeping that growth in check—not reversing it, mind you, but allowing the government to grow only about as quickly as the economy does—would, we are told, subject our nation to unimaginable horrors. If all of Ryan’s cuts in the growth of spending were “applied evenly,” the president argued, then:
The year after next, nearly 10 million college students would see their financial aid cut by an average of more than $1,000 each. There would be 1,600 fewer medical grants, research grants for things like Alzheimer’s and cancer and AIDS. There would be 4,000 fewer scientific research grants, eliminating support for 48,000 researchers, students, and teachers. Investments in clean energy technologies that are helping us reduce our dependence on foreign oil would be cut by nearly a fifth.
If this budget becomes law and the cuts were applied evenly, starting in 2014, over 200,000 children would lose their chance to get an early education in the Head Start program. Two million mothers and young children would be cut from a program that gives them access to healthy food. There would be 4,500 fewer federal grants at the Department of Justice and the FBI to combat violent crime, financial crime, and help secure our borders. Hundreds of national parks would be forced to close for part or all of the year. We wouldn’t have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the food that we eat.
Cuts to the FAA would likely result in more flight cancellations, delays, and the complete elimination of air traffic control services in parts of the country. Over time, our weather forecasts would become less accurate because we wouldn’t be able to afford to launch new satellites. And that means governors and mayors would have to wait longer to order evacuations in the event of a hurricane.
What the president is referring to, of course, are not cuts from today’s levels—let alone yesterday’s levels—in all of these programs, but cuts from the projected growth that would occur if the government were allowed to continue ballooning.
#more#Instead of doing all these wonderful things, the Republicans want to reduce taxes, Obama argues. They want to let people keep more of what they earn, and we all know that those people will only waste that money rather than use it to support clean energy technologies and accurate weather reports. Every millionaire would get to keep $150,000 more of his money, the president claimed, and such people would no doubt use that money to pollute the air and undermine medical progress (because millionaires never support environmental and medical causes). Just think of how much more effectively the government could use that money:
Let’s just step back for a second and look at what $150,000 pays for: A year’s worth of prescription drug coverage for a senior citizen. Plus a new school computer lab. Plus a year of medical care for a returning veteran. Plus a medical research grant for a chronic disease. Plus a year’s salary for a firefighter or police officer. Plus a tax credit to make a year of college more affordable. Plus a year’s worth of financial aid. One hundred fifty thousand dollars could pay for all of these things combined — investments in education and research that are essential to economic growth that benefits all of us. For $150,000, that would be going to each millionaire and billionaire in this country. This budget says we’d be better off as a country if that’s how we spend it.
There is of course lots about all this that is simply dishonest and false. The Ryan budget doesn’t call for across the board cuts. And that budget calls for the Ways and Means Committee to propose a revenue-neutral tax reform that would lower rates while eliminating loopholes—so it wouldn’t deny the government revenue it now has but would seek ways to obtain it that are more conducive to growth (and of course those loopholes benefit the wealthy above all). But the dishonesty is not the most extraordinary thing about this speech. The most extraordinary thing is the basic vision of American life it lays out: The president talks as though the liberal welfare state were not crumbling all around him, as though his budget does not abide (indeed, prescribe) an unprecedented explosion of debt that will crush American prosperity in the coming decades, as though all the money earned by all Americans were simply a pot for the government to spend as it wishes and allowing people to keep more of their earnings were just one way to spend it.
He speaks as though the problem—our unsustainable entitlement state—were the solution, and as though the solution—a budget that restrains the growth of spending, modernizes and reforms our collapsing entitlement and welfare programs to avert their collapse, and charts a path toward economic growth—were the problem. In this upside-down, inside-out world, Barack Obama accuses Paul Ryan of putting the future of America’s younger generation in danger and inviting American decline.
A psychologist might call this projection. The president’s political advisors probably call it all they’ve got. Let us hope that voters will know what to call it this fall: reckless denial and cynical dishonesty from a failed president with nothing left to offer. Or, if we are lucky, perhaps the last straw.