President Obama has delivered the last budget of his term. Three of the four, including this one, were submitted late, shattering the previous record for an administration. Each of the four proposed more than $1 trillion in higher taxes on hard-working families and businesses, along with trillions in new spending and borrowing instead of a real strategy for growth and jobs. And — most disappointing of all — none of the four offered a credible plan to lift the crushing burden of debt, thus committing current and future generations to diminished prosperity and a nation in decline.
Although the White House claims to include $4 trillion in deficit reduction, the president’s budget actually contains virtually no credible deficit reduction at all. Under his plan, the government is projected to borrow $11.2 trillion over the next 10 years. This is roughly the same amount of debt we are expected to incur under realistic projections of current policy. The budget does not change our debt trajectory.
Instead, the president has used a series of gimmicks to create the illusion of fiscal responsibility. He exploits the winding-down of overseas combat operations to claim almost $1 trillion in “savings” over 10 years — money that was never requested by our military and was never going to be spent. Rather than propose actual spending cuts, his budget takes credit for $2 trillion in spending cuts that have already been signed into law. Further, it suggests replacing half of those cuts with a tax hike. When it comes to measuring tax rates, Pell grants and Medicare, his budget adjusts the starting line to satisfy his finish line.
Where some had hoped that President Obama might take some responsibility for breaking his promise to cut the deficit in half by the end of his term, he has offered nothing but the same old excuses. Given the fallen expectations for this president, his latest broken promise was no surprise to the millions of Americans who have seen great hope turn to great cynicism.
We see serious danger in shrugging off the president’s dereliction of duty — a danger compounded by Democratic leaders in the U.S. Senate, who have refused to offer any budget at all for more than 1,000 days. The unsustainable growth of government spending is pushing the nation ever closer to a debt-fueled economic crisis.
For four straight years, the federal government’s budget deficit has eclipsed $1 trillion. The national debt now exceeds the size of the U.S. economy. Unable to escape the merciless math, President Obama’s budget concedes (if you read the fine print) that, in the years ahead, the nation’s “fiscal position gradually deteriorates.” This admission is reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s explanation of how one goes bankrupt: “Gradually, then suddenly.”
Sluggish growth, stagnant wages and widespread joblessness have imperiled the economic security of millions of Americans. The president’s health-care law, which hands control of Medicare to a board of unaccountable bureaucrats in Washington, jeopardizes the health and retirement security of millions of seniors. And deep reductions in our armed forces, crowded out by entitlement spending and interest on the debt, could put the national security of all Americans at risk.
For our part, we refuse to accept the diminished future outlined by President Obama’s budget. A growing bipartisan consensus recognizes the core elements our country needs: responsible spending restraint; a repaired safety net; reforms that ensure real health and retirement security; and a simplified tax code oriented toward growth.
Achieving fiscal sanity will take time. It will not happen overnight. But while reforms can and should be phased in gradually and carefully, there can be no delaying the first step in the process, which is for both sides to come forward with honest plans to change the debt course in a real and meaningful way.
President Obama and his party’s leaders have taken the opposite approach. In dealing with the most predictable economic crisis in our nation’s history, they have decided to duck behind an empty promise and hope that those they serve don’t notice.
The good news, of course, is that citizens are noticing, and they will have the final say. The American people demand leaders that take seriously their legal and moral obligations to put forward credible budget plans. In the House and Senate budget committees, we will continue to work with our colleagues — from both parties where possible — to advance bold solutions that lift our crushing burden of debt and ensure a future of opportunity, growth and prosperity.
If this president refuses to lead, the American people will be given an opportunity to chart a new way forward to ensure a new era of prosperity, for this generation and for generations to come.
Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, is the ranking member on the Senate Committee on the Budget. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin’s 1st District, is chairman of the House Committee on the Budget.
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