I have a feeling this line from President Obama’s press conference Tuesday is one he won’t live down:
“You guys are pretty impatient. If something doesn’t happen today, then the assumption is it isn’t going to happen.”
“Impatient”? You bet we are.
The “you guys” actually referred to the Washington press corps, and the topic was the federal budget — specifically, the reforms for the tax code and entitlements that members of Obama’s bipartisan commission recommended in December. The president mentioned those reforms as steps necessary to “meet our long-term fiscal challenges,” and that’s true as far as it goes.
You have to wonder, though, how patient all Americans are supposed to be about the totality of Obama’s deficits. The budget Obama presented Monday was his third as president — he only gets one more crack at it without winning re-election — and it’s the third time he’s budgeted a deficit of more than $1 trillion.
Asking for more patience from Americans looks even worse now. Within hours of Obama’s press conference, the House Republican leadership said it would include entitlement reform in its budget for the coming fiscal year, 2012.
What kind of reform? We’ll have to wait and see. But the Budget chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who has already produced one “roadmap” for fixing entitlements and the rest of the federal fisc, is likely to lead the charge.
A reform plan for entitlements that moves the needle even a little bit will be very politically risky. But I think it is smart of Republicans to seize the initiative on this vital issue from a president who talks but doesn’t act about not “kicking the can down the road” any longer — not to mention these lines:
Americans know entitlement reform won’t be easy. What people are really getting “impatient” about is Obama’s failure to rein in the record budget deficits he has created in the short term. Twenty months after the technical end of the recession, the president is calling for yet another year of trillion-dollar borrowing.
Even as his administration projects revenues well above the historical average for eight straight years (from fiscal 2014 through fiscal 2021), it anticipates adding $6.2 trillion in new debt during those same years. And almost all of that debt, $5.5 trillion, will be borrowed to make interest payments on the debt he is racking up or will rack up.
As hard as the Bush years were on the nation’s solvency — more than doubling the debt held by the public, from $3.3 trillion to $7.5 trillion — Obama’s own budget estimates show that he would double it again if he were to serve two terms, from $7.5 trillion to $15.1 trillion. (These figures exclude borrowings by one federal agency from another, which would each of them up by trillions more.)
So, when we are borrowing from our children again over the coming decades to pay interest on the money we’ve already borrowed from them, Obama will indeed shoulder a very large share of the blame.
Of course, we could cut spending now and sustain those cuts into the future, so that those interest payments aren’t as great, and so that we don’t have to borrow more money to make them.
Even if we were to agree on Obama’s spending in fiscal 2012 and 2013 and add 3 percent per year after that to account for inflation and population growth, meaning we wouldn’t balance the budget until 2019 — even if we acted that cautiously, we could still reduce federal spending by almost $4 trillion over eight years.
Even then, we’d have a lot to answer to our children for; I’d prefer stronger action. But if Obama were to make even that modest a proposal, a lot of us might be a little less impatient.
– By Kyle Wingfield
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