By G. Tracy Mehan
The Democrats in the Senate have been fighting a rear guard action, trying to obstruct the House Republicans in their drive for budget reform through a series of continuing resolutions (CRs) which are necessary to keep the federal government in operation during the current fiscal year. Some $10 billion has been cut from that budget already.
Notwithstanding this energetic skirmishing, the opening salvo in what promises to be the main engagement on the 2012 budget was fired last week.
The day after St. Patrick's Day, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its analysis of President Obama's 2012 budget. The significance of this "preliminary analysis" was not lost on House Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI).
"The Congressional Budget Office's report exposes the widening gulf between the President's rhetoric and his budget's reality," said Ryan. "Simply put, the President's budget spends too much, taxes too much, and borrows too much-and it continues to heap an unsustainable burden of debt on American families, today and in the future."
According to the GOP Budget Chairman, the President's budget can never reach balance over time.
Ryan was ratcheting up his rhetoric from the day before when he had accused the President of "punting" on the budget debate and ignoring the problem. The CBO report seems to have really rattled his cage, understandably so.
Citing a "discouraging lack of leadership," Chairman Ryan pointed out that President Obama's budget "completely ignored the recommendations of his own Fiscal Commission, refusing to seriously advance any of their proposals for reining in the runaway spending in our major entitlement programs."
Specific aspects of the 2012 Administration budget, which were particularly galling to Ryan, were the plans to spend $3.7 trillion or 24.3 percent of GDP, the highest since World War II, and $46.2 trillion over the decade. It would also increase taxes on, well, everyone, by $1.5 trillion. Federal taxes, alone, will reach almost 20 percent of GDP in 2021.
The resulting $1.2 trillion deficit in fiscal year 2012 -- the fourth straight record deficit exceeding a trillion dollars -- is followed by a doubling of the national debt by 2016 compared to the President's first year in office. The debt then triples by 2021!
Basically, CBO is saying that the Obama Administration has underestimated federal deficits by $2 trillion over the upcoming decade, as reported by the Associated Press.
Chairman Ryan, of course, understands that the root cause of this hemorrhaging federal spending is the out-of-control entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- which have been on autopilot since their inception but are now exploding due to spiraling health costs and the retirement of the Boomer generation. In his opening statement at hearings he conducted on the great saint's feast day, the Wisconsin Congressman said that entitlements "are growing at unsustainable rates, building trillions of dollars in debt and unfunded promises that jeopardize the programs themselves, the Federal budget, and-ultimately-the entire U.S. economy."
"The longer Congress waits, the worse these problems become, leading to an inevitable crisis that will force deep, wrenching, sudden changes with profound effects on program beneficiaries," states Ryan. These programs can be reformed, "but only through honest leadership and real reform."
The Chairman, who has been calling for and proposing concrete entitlement reform for a long time, believes "we need to have a serious, honest conversation with the American people about these problems."
"The time for that conversation is now -- and I firmly believe the American people are ready for it," said Ryan, expressing what may be the triumph of hope over experience if some recent public polling is to be believed. But what, really, is the alternative? National bankruptcy?
Unfortunately, President Obama seems to be hunkered down, failing to engage on these consequential matters, presumably hoping to play a sort of rope-a-dope strategy and skate through to re-election. This may not be as easy as he once thought given the recent letter he received from a bipartisan group of 64 senators calling on him to show some leadership on cutting the deficit.
Whatever stance the President ultimately assumes on the coming budget debate for 2012, it is clear that a battle royal is in store for the nation.