‘Kicking the can’ — again
The sequestered budget cuts that will be inflicted on Friday sound dire enough. But beyond their short-term impact lies this more ominous long-term reality:
The powers that be in Washington remain woefully unable — or at least unwilling — to make the difficult budgetary decisions needed to correct America’s reckless course toward bottom-line disaster.
An apt assessment of that ongoing fiscal irresponsibility:
“What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further.”
That was Barack Obama in January 2009, less than a week before he first took the presidential oath of office.
And though the president will meet with congressional leaders from both parties Friday in an attempt to minimize sequester damage, he has persisted in kicking the debt-crisis can down the road for more than four years.
Now Republicans in Congress want to give President Obama the “flexibility” to decide which items to cut to reach spending-restraint goals.
The president’s politically savvy response, in effect: “Thanks, but no thanks.”
The proverbial hot potato comes to mind.
So does the congressional duty to make hard spending — and taxing — choices.
In fairness to the Republican House, though, it has passed budgets the last two years, and recently has passed two bills aimed at averting Friday’s sequester cuts. The Democratic Senate hasn’t passed a budget since April 29, 2009 — or any bills to meet Friday’s fiscal deadline.
Meanwhile, President Obama is still resisting meaningful entitlement reform — and is again pushing for higher taxes on the wealthy as his preferred means of closing the ominous gap between federal tax revenue and federal spending.
Less than two months ago, he secured a year-end “fiscal cliff” deal that will impose more than $600 billion in tax hikes.
That outcome generated considerable punditry about how he had again trumped the GOP opposition. Now he wants even more on the taxing side by eliminating some deductions.
Perhaps some of those tax changes are in order. As Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats fairly point out, Republican nominee Mitt Romney advocated such “reforms” during last year’s presidential campaign.
In the wake of four consecutive federal deficits of more than $1 trillion, however, it should be clear that we can’t tax our way back to fiscal balance.
Yet according to House Speaker John Boehner, the president told him late last year during the fiscal-cliff fight, “We don’t have a spending problem.”
The White House has not denied that account. And though the president has repeatedly hailed spending “reductions” in that fiscal-cliff compromise, the troubling fact remains that the vast majority of those cuts are not scheduled to begin until the eighth year of the 10-year plan.
Yes, the impending sequester cuts are troubling — especially with two-thirds of them coming from the Defense Department.
But while $85 billion is a significant chunk of change, it’s less than 2.3 percent of the federal budget. We’ll ultimately have to cut much more deeply to right the foundering federal fiscal ship.
If you doubt that, ponder the enduring validity of this insight from a federal lawmaker explaining his vote against a debt-ceiling boost:
“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can’t pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government’s reckless fiscal policies.”
Our national debt was $8.2 trillion when Sen. Barack Obama sounded that warning on March 20, 2006.
Today our national debt is $16.62 trillion.
And regardless of the current furor over the sequester, that still-soaring debt is a sign of a continuing “leadership failure” in both the White House and Congress.