Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Obama’s Budget – Where Is the Leader We Elected?

Everyone … well almost everyone … agrees that the United States’ budget deficit is something that must be addressed now if we want to maintain the financial stability of this country.  And everyone also agrees that given the size of the projected deficits, the net reduction on a yearly basis needs to be huge.

Three different nonpartisan/bipartisan groups came out with reports several months ago about how to reduce the deficit.   While they differed in their details, they were all consistent in that any serious effort must combine cuts in all areas, including especially defense, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, as well as selective tax increases.  

Without that breadth of cuts combined with tax increases, there would be no way of cutting the deficit sufficiently while apportioning the resulting sacrifice in a just way.  The pain of austerity needs to be shared by all while limiting its impact on the weakest in our society.

The Republicans, who are serious about cutting the deficit, have put entitlements and defense cuts off the table, they have put tax increases off the table, and they have declared that the impact of tax cuts on the deficit would not be considered.  Given the size of their proposed cuts, this is a prescription for massive pain primarily for workers and the poor.  The sacrifice would not be a shared one.

And what has President Obama proposed in his 2012 budget?  A timid approach to cuts combined with increased investments in various areas resulting in an admittedly insufficient attack on the deficit.  What he said was that any moves to tackle cuts to the entitlements would have to be bipartisan.  Defense seems to be pretty much off the table for him too.

Where is the leader that we elected?  Where is the change that we want?  With the backing of the three studies on how to reduce the deficit, the President would have had good cover to put forward a bold budget that incorporated many of their suggestions.

Had he done so, he then could have said to the Republicans, “Your way is not the American way …it is not the fair and just way to reduce the deficit.  My proposal is a proposal for shared sacrifice across the entire spectrum of America’s populace and business community, incorporating a “means” test:  those that can most afford it sacrifice the most; those that can least afford it sacrifice the least.”

That is what I would have expected from the President.  That is what needs to happen to move the debate forward in a constructive fashion.  Are there people left in the halls of power who will rise to the occasion?