The budget plan President Barack Obama released Wednesday — more than two months after the statutory deadline — finally includes steps to restrain entitlement costs. Unfortunately, though, those are baby steps.
And while the modest Social Security cost-of-living adjustments he now advocates have ignited a firestorm from some on the left, the administration estimates that its overall entitlement changes would save only $230 billion over the next decade. That’s a tiny fraction of the trillions in long-term shortfalls facing Social Security and Medicare in their current forms.
Restoring the financial stability of those demographically threatened systems will require much harder choices than small reductions in cost-of-living boosts.
Meanwhile, many of the president’s familiar critics on the right correctly pointed out Wednesday that the projections of deficit reduction in his plan are dubious at best.
Of course, assumptions in any 10-year spending — and taxing — outline are inherently shaky.
However, the president’s pitch that his long-term blueprint would trim $1.8 trillion from potential deficits by 2023 is particularly far-fetched.
According to the White House, roughly $580 billion of that decline would come from revenue increases created by the elimination of many itemized income-tax deductions for the wealthy.
In other words, after securing a $620 billion tax hike in the “fiscal cliff” deal at the start of this year, Mr. Obama wants to raise taxes again.
The other $1.2 trillion or so in deficit reductions would come from spending cuts, including a $200 billion decrease in defense appropriations and $400 billion from health care programs.
Yet the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Obama pushed through Congress in 2010 without a single Republican vote, has already created costly confusion — and prompted numerous waivers and delays in its implementation.
A member of the Senate Finance Committee decried the health care law’s high bewilderment quotient Tuesday. During the confirmation hearing of Marilyn Tavenner as the new head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the senator said: “I believe that the Affordable Care Act is probably the most complex piece of legislation ever passed by the United States Congress.”
The senator warned that the law is “so complicated ... if it isn’t done right the first time, it will simply get worse.”
That wasn’t a Republican lawmaker still fighting a sore loser’s battle against “Obamacare.”
That was Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, one of the architects of that legislative behemoth.
The law’s burdens and uncertainties are clearly stifling full-time hiring — regardless of the stock market’s recent surge. And last week’s disappointing jobs report appears to offer additional evidence of that obstacle to removing the modifier from the term “jobless recovery.”
As for President Obama’s attempts to re-cast himself as a champion of fiscal prudence, he offered this assurance during Saturday’s radio weekly address: “Now, the truth is, our deficits are already shrinking.”
Yes, the Congressional Budget Office has pegged the deficit for the 2013 budget year, which ends on Sept. 30, at $845 billion. Yes, that’s less than our last four budget deficits, which all eclipsed $1 trillion.
But our national debt, now a record $16.81 trillion and rising, has grown by more than $6 trillion during Mr. Obama’s less than four and a half years as president. That troubling climb seriously undermines his fiscal-leadership credibility.
And when any president brags about a $845 billion deficit projection, America’s obviously got a serious balance-sheet problem.
Still, President Obama’s willingness to cut the growth of entitlements, albeit belatedly and only slightly, is a move in the right direction.
Now the challenge is to get the president, and members of both parties on Capitol Hill, to pick up the pace on the road back to bottom-line responsibility.
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