The Corner

Is There a Plan?

Quite literally, all talk and no action.

The president says he won’t walk away from health-care reform and he won’t pass onto the next generation a mountain of federal debt.

But there’s no plan to achieve either of these goals.

On health care, he offered nothing new. He is sticking with the plan the public has quite plainly rejected. According to a recent CNN poll, a full 70 percent of Americans want Congress either to start over entirely or to drop the subject altogether. That’s because they recognize that the plan the president has been pushing so aggressively for the better part of a year would be a disaster, for the quality of American medicine and for the nation’s budget outlook. The president claims the bill would cut the deficit, but that’s based on completely implausible assumptions. The bill would stand up another runaway entitlement program, paid for with offsets that will never hold up over time and cost-control ideas that are weak and largely meaningless.

And so what does the president now propose to do to get his signature initiative out of the political ditch it’s in? Nothing — which means it will remain there.

On the budget, the president did his very best to look and sound determined and serious. And indeed the problem is serious. With realistic assumptions, the federal budget deficit is likely to remain over $1 trillion every year for as far as the eye can see. Over the next twenty years, spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid will increase by about 5 percent of GDP.

What’s the president’s response to this looming budget and entitlement crisis? A budget freeze on a small subset of discretionary appropriations and a debt commission that is a transparent attempt to avoid making any difficult choices himself. He is the president of the United States. If he wanted to tackle the budget deficit, he could offer a plan to do so. But he has chosen instead to try to look like a leader without offering any genuine leadership to solve the problem. The public will see right through this, of course.

All State of the Union addresses descend into applause lines and laundry lists that are forgotten almost as soon as the words are spoken. But this speech stands out for its lack of authentic substance. If the president really wanted to make progress on health care and the budget deficit, he could have helped himself tonight. But he chose instead to posture for political advantage, which means he very likely will end his second year as president with almost nothing to show for his time in office.

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