Tuesday, February 15, 2011

More Than A Budget In The Balance

Andrew Sullivan elaborates on yesterday's strenuous outburst against President Obama's proposed budget:

My belief in balanced budgets and living within one's means is deeply entrenched. I attacked my idol Reagan over it; I gushed over Perot on that count (about the only one); I backed Bill Clinton's first, Eisenhower-style budget; I praised the Gingrich-Clinton surplus. But, from the get-go, I went after George W. Bush on fiscal matters and his indifference to deficit spending (unlike most of the Tea Partiers). I went ballistic over Medicare D and unfunded wars. I have been relentless in skepticism toward the Tea Party's alleged fiscal credentials. So why would it in any way be surprising that I would treat Obama the same way? I gave him leeway in the first two years because cutting spending in such a recession would not have helped. In my post yesterday, I support his distinction between investment and mere spending.

But he was elected to provide change we can believe in. In the biggest domestic challenge - America's compounding bankruptcy - he has offered denial and politics.

Sullivan acknowledges that Obama's budget may be the first move in a grand bargain with Republicans that he would work toward in his patient, non-anxious way. His soporific news conference this morning certainly suggested as much. The usual kabuki dance is the president challenging Congress to embrace his vision and Congress and the media proclaiming that it's DOA. But Obama wasn't dancing. He said his budget amounted merely to a guide to the discretionary spending reductions and cuts that he'd find acceptable. If people want more deficit reduction, then they'll have to come from entitlements, defense, and taxes.

If it's true that most Americans have a gathering sense of alarm about the long-time solvency of the United States, then I'd think elected officials will be feeling the heat all across the board. Defense aficionados may come to understand that national bankruptcy would be a national security crisis. The well-off may realize that means testing for Social Security and Medicare won't affect their retirement lifestyle, which in any event will be much more pleasant if the U.S. isn't in default. Progressives may be willing to accept even more of those "mere spending" cuts if it enables them to protect spending that puts people to work, now and in the future. I'd even say (though I don't quite believe it) that anti-tax hawks might come to understand, as their hero Ronald Reagan did in his time, that more revenue must be part of the picture.

Over the next few months, can Obama weave all that together into an historic deficit reduction and long-term investment package? It depends on whether Americans are really paying attention and on how many of their leaders, Obama included, are willing to put their country ahead of their reelection.

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