Tomorrow's edit today:
Obama’s 2013 plan too quiet on reforms needed to tackle debt.
Given that President Barack Obama’s allies in Congress already have declared a budget won’t be voted on in 2012, the president’s unveiling Monday of his proposed 2013 budget was little more than an opportunity to make a political statement.
When it came to our country’s alarming debt, that statement was hardly a whisper.
The president’s budget, unveiled with a speech at Northern Virginia Community College, offered few surprises. There were tighter caps on discretionary spending, as necessitated by August’s debt-ceiling agreement. There was a proposed $1.5 trillion increase in taxes on the wealthy, which dares Republicans to battle Obama on an issue where he clearly believes he has the political advantage.
The president also proposed some domestic initiatives he’s previously advocated, including $476 billion over six years in road and transportation improvements, plus an $8 billion investment in community college worker training that he telegraphed in a State of the Union speech featuring good work done at Charlotte’s Central Piedmont Community College.
Finally, the budget included the kind of iffy accounting we’ve come to expect with these plans – revenue based on overly rosy economic growth, and cuts based on accounting gimmicks such as nearly $1 trillion in “savings” on war expenditures that the U.S. wasn’t going to spend, anyway.
Add it all up, and Obama’s budget still offers sobering short-term deficits, following up a $1 trillion-plus shortfall in fiscal year 2012 with a 2013 deficit of about $900 billion. Those deficits, while not ideal, are certainly justifiable. The White House says – and many economists agree – that severe and immediate spending cuts are not the best way to guide the fragile U.S. economy toward recovery.
But the long term? While Republicans and Democrats bicker over whether the plan would save $4 trillion, as the White House says, or $300 billion, as Republicans have calculated, this much we know: Obama took a pass, again, on steering us toward the systemic reforms needed to truly tackle a $15 trillion debt that’s becoming more perilous each year.
The biggest driver of that debt is Medicare and other health care costs. Obama’s budget proposes $360 billion in Medicare and Medicaid savings over the next 10 years, mostly by reducing payments to drug companies and other providers. That savings won’t even dent the trillions the U.S. will spend on health care during that same time span.
Obama already has a blueprint to reduce debt – Charlotte’s Erskine Bowles and Wyoming’s Alan Simpson showed how to reduce deficits by $4 trillion over 10 years with real entitlement reform, not timid cuts and accounting sleight of hand.
Bowles and Simpson, who led the president’s deficit task force, made clear that the $4 trillion was just a start down the long path of debt reduction. Perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect President Obama to use an election-year budget proposal to launch us down that difficult road. But it would’ve been nice if he had at least nudged us toward a good first step.
Monday, February 13, 2012
Tomorrow's edit today: