Well, this should be interesting. Prez O released the details of the administration’s proposed 2012 fiscal year budget yesterday, and it doesn’t appear that many of the lobbyists, policy wonks, policy makers and other miscreants who raced to get a copy are particularly happy. Go figure.
Yet the budget — framed in the big national issues of
spending investing to “win the future” versus slicing the deficit (a WTF prospect for most of us, but necessary) — should provide material for the chattering class for months and may very well set the stage for national, state and local elections in 2012 that determines what we really stand for as a nation.
Here’s from a NYT article, “Obama’s Budget Focuses on Path to Rein in Deficit“:
With President Obama’s release on Monday of a budget for next year and House action this week on a Republican plan for immediate deep spending cuts, the nation is getting its clearest view since the president took office of the parties’ competing visions of the role of government, the urgency of addressing the deficit and the best path to long-term economic success.
Mr. Obama used his budget for the fiscal year 2012 and beyond to make the case for selectively cutting spending while increasing resources in areas like education and clean energy initiatives that hold the potential for long-term payoffs in economic growth. With this year’s deficit projected to hit a record, $1.6 trillion, he laid out a path for bringing down annual deficits to more sustainable levels over the rest of the decade.
Republicans said it was not nearly enough to address chronic fiscal imbalances and reduce the role of the federal government in the economy and society.
And even some of the liberal rags, WaPo among them, and liberal pundits and gasbags (see for instance Dana Milbank’s WaPo op-ed, “In his new budget, Obama kicks the can one more time“) opine that O’s budget doesn’t go near far enough to cut government spending and the growth in government in general.
Here’s from a WaPo editorial, “President Obama’s budget kicks the hard choices further down the road“:
THE PRESIDENT PUNTED. Having been given the chance, the cover and the push by the fiscal commission he created to take bold steps to raise revenue and curb entitlement spending, President Obama, in his fiscal 2012 budget proposal, chose instead to duck. To duck, and to mask some of the ducking with the sort of budgetary gimmicks he once derided. “The fiscal realities we face require hard choices,” the president said in his budget message. “A decade of deficits, compounded by the effects of the recession and the steps we had to take to break it, as well as the chronic failure to confront difficult decisions, has put us on an unsustainable course.” His budget would keep the country on that course.
OK, folks. Here’s my view of reality from where I sit at 3:30 a.m. as a pajama-clad citizen journalist.
Reality No. 1: Most people favor cutting government spending — as long as the cuts don’t touch something that is important to them. Take a look at a recent national study conducted by the Pew Research Center: “Rethinking Budget Cutting: Fewer Want Spending To Grow, But Most Cuts Remain Unpopular.”
Reality No. 2: There are three really big fish in the skillet: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. USA Today has a really informative — and easy to read and understand chart — about where the federal government’s money comes from and where it goes. As best I can tell: Annual payments for Medicare and Medicaid: $737 billion — Social Security: $761 billion. Annual revenues from Medicare payroll taxes: $202 billion — Social Security: $660 billion. Wonder what happened to Al Gore’s Social Security “lockbox” that was a highlight of a presidential debate now long forgotten. I digress.
Reality No. 3: Elected officials — for the most part — don’t look much, if at all, beyond the next election. And anyone who stands up and proposes substantial changes or cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid does so at considerable risk to his or her political future. Seniors tend to take names and kick ass at the ballot box.
Reality No. 4: Conservative Republicans and Tea Party members of Congress are about to test my reality No. 3 — and they well be willing to risk losing an election rather than playing it safe in the middle. And there are a lot of conservatives and independents in this country who would rather step up to the plate and go down swinging on matters of principle than play ball again with the John McCain Republicans.
And admittedly, I’m not enthusiastic about changes to Social Security or Medicare. But if nothing else I’m a jaded realist: something is going to have to change — unless we really do want to become France. We can’t sustain the path we are on without spending cuts or increased taxes. Probably both.
In the meantime, we are going see a lot of can kicking until after the next elections — and maybe beyond.