The Corner

The So-Called Budget

The interesting thing about the early responses to the president’s budget today is how focused they have been on the tax increases on the wealthy, and the class-warfare argument the budget implicitly advances. The budget has been treated as an electioneering document, and that is surely what it is. But we are struck by its class-warfare components first and foremost because we have come to take for granted what really ought to be the most glaring and astonishing fact about this budget: its sheer, incredible, and utter fiscal irresponsibility. It completely fails to budget.


Let’s recall that this document lays out what President Obama wants to do in terms of fiscal policy in the coming years. It is what he would do if he were completely free to act as he chose. And what would that be? After having presided over three of the largest deficits in our history, the president wants to go for four, and to end his term having added $6.4 trillion to the nation’s gross debt (about as much total debt in four years as the United States amassed in its first 225 years combined). He proposes to spend more next year than this year (and next year is the only year for which this budget would actually be the budget), he offers no meaningful entitlement reform (and therefore no way out of an oncoming debt crisis), and to soften the blow he filters his spending numbers through a series of patently transparent and insulting gimmicks (for instance, he counts as savings from the Iraq and Afghanistan drawdowns money that was never even requested or budgeted in the first place, he counts interest savings from tax increases as spending cuts, he relies on completely unrealistic growth projections for the coming years, and on and on).


Of course, this is par for the course for this president. His budget documents have all been studies in the dereliction of duty. And it’s true that this particular act of dereliction has in it more elements of class warfare and punitive and economically damaging targeted tax increases than the past ones. But as we take note of that added layer of misguided political economy, we should not lose sight of the underlying scandal—the president’s complete lack of interest in addressing the mounting fiscal crisis which his policies have so severely exacerbated, and his readiness to allow our government’s finances to collapse around him (or rather around his wretched successor) and to burden our children with an unprecedented and unbearable burden of debt.


Maybe that’s old news, but it is a deeply disturbing and depressing fact, and it is perhaps second only to Obamacare on the long, long list of reasons why we need a new president next year.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.


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