Calvin Freiburger

Boston Professor Hails Obama for Declaring War on Deficits. Wait, What?

Posted on April 16 2011 8:50 am
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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To love your country is to hate red ink.

Sounds like a Tea Party slogan, doesn’t it? This concise declaration of fiscal responsibility would look at home on many a conservative bumper or amid a sea of protest signs, but incredibly, it was uttered by Boston University history professor Andrew Bacevich as—I kid you not—a glowing endorsement of President Barack Obama’s April 13 speech on the federal budget. On the Daily Beast, Bacevich declares that the 44th president has “expanded the operative definition of patriotism to encompass belief in balanced budgets”:

This is surely a good thing. So too is the president’s willingness to finger the essence of the problem: a widespread desire for an endless free lunch—people coveting government benefits without a willingness to pay for them.

Obama also performed a useful service in pointing out that any serious effort at deficit reduction will have to target the Big Four: Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and national security.

Regarding that last category, the president promises to reassess not only military missions and capabilities, but also America’s role in the world. In our post-unipolar moment, such a reassessment is long overdue. Yet to have more than cosmetic results, Obama will have to take on some very sacred cows and some very powerful interests.

I defy you to find a more surreal reaction to Obama’s remarks. We’ve previously discussed how Diamond Barry’s proposed budgets have been so bloated they call for new taxes by the trillions to sustain them. The president might have said on Wednesday that he wants to reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over the next twelve years, but as Mark Knoller of noted right-wing mouthpiece CBS News reports:

Budget totals issued by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) in February project 10 years of deficits totaling $7.2 trillion between 2012 and 2021. Another two years at that rate would bring the 12 year total to $8.6 trillion.

The Obama 12-year plan would cut the projected deficit total in half, but would leave another $4 trillion in deficits that would be added to the National Debt, which now stands at $14.27 trillion.

Separately, OMB expects the Debt to double over the next ten years to a mind-boggling total of $26.3-trillion in 2021. It’s estimated the Debt that year would cost U.S. taxpayers $928-billion in interest payments. Four trillion dollars in deficit reduction would reduce the Debt to just over $22-trillion, and still inflict $700-billion in interest on the federal budget.

If budget-balancing really is the new patriotism, then Obama falls short of the good, solid B plus range right out of the gate. By the way, Obama has decided signing statements aren’t evil anymore, and is using one to declare that he simply won’t abide by Congress’s vote to de-fund his czars. I don’t see how unilaterally disregarding spending cuts enacted by the legislative branch gets you points as a fiscal hawk. This is what Professor Bacevich considers visionary leadership aimed at cleaning up the mess we’re in?

If we assess Obama’s approach to “sacred cows” (and no, it’s not bold for a leftist to say we’re spending too much on defense, which isn’t the problem area anyway), then the grade drops further still. Consider his reaction to the substantive (if imperfect) plan proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), which attempts to address Medicaid and Medicare. Did the Uniter-in-Chief applaud Ryan’s willingness to make tough decisions? Did our first post-partisan president offer to reach across the aisle to find common ground between their plans, while offering substantive, good-faith critiques of particulars he disagreed with? Er, not exactly:

But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history […] These are the kind of cuts that tell us we can’t afford the America we believe in.  And they paint a vision of our future that’s deeply pessimistic […]

Worst of all, this is a vision that says even though America can’t afford to invest in education or clean energy; even though we can’t afford to care for seniors and poor children, we can somehow afford more than $1 trillion in new tax breaks for the wealthy […] their vision is less about reducing the deficit than it is about changing the basic social compact in America.  As Ronald Reagan’s own budget director said, there’s nothing “serious” or “courageous” about this plan.  There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires.  There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.

The demagoguery is so thick you could cut it with a knife. The fact is, the Ryan budget returns discretionary spending to not-exactly stingy 2008 levels. And as the Wall Street Journal writes, his Medicare “cuts” are cuts “only in the sense of slowing the rate of growth,” and his healthcare proposals are meant to address government-distortion of the incentive structure: “By capping the Medicare subsidy, seniors would pay for the marginal costs of their care, promoting competitive insurance. That would in turn incrementally change how doctors and hospitals provide care, encouraging competition in price and quality.” And the tax cuts for the rich?

The Ryan budget outline by design does not provide many tax specifics, aside from an instruction to the Ways and Means Committee to propose a reform plan that would swap lower rates for fewer loopholes and special exclusions. This overhaul is not even a net tax cut—the instructions are to design a reform that is revenue neutral. It would hold tax receipts to their post-World War II average of between 18% to 19% as a share of the economy.

The liberal claim that this means a tax cut for the wealthy is based entirely on the fact that marginal tax rates would decline, even though the loopholes primarily benefit higher-income taxpayers. At any rate, Mr. Obama’s own deficit commission also favored lowering the rates and broadening the base for a more efficient and competitive tax code.

Mr. President, the only thing that embodies “a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history” is your vision. Your talk of what “we” can afford, what “we’ve” promised to this or that slice of the population, betrays your ignorance of a simple, quintessentially American truth: the people are not the government. Yes, we the people have a moral obligation to lend a hand to our young, our sick, and our downtrodden, but the role of our federal government is to protect our individual rights so we don’t have to watch our backs all the time, so we can focus on other pursuits, such as bettering ourselves and the world around us.

To recognize that the government can’t afford all the collective charity work our liberal betters think it should undertake is not to reject the individual’s obligations to his countrymen. Mr. President, you accuse conservatives of “changing the basic social compact in America.” America’s social compact is the United States Constitution, and we’re not changing a word of it—we’re simply reasserting it’s original, true meaning.

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