Prom night in Washington has come and gone, and with it all the phony excitement of the president’s grim State of the Union “address” proposing more of the moonshine that gave us the headaches and bellyaches we already have. President Obama himself got out of town as quickly as he could in search of grass-roots enthusiasm for borrowing more money from the Chinese.
Every little boy dreams of finding a toy train under the Christmas tree, and maybe little Barack, being shuttled from Hawaii to Indonesia and back again, never got his little engine that could. So he’s eager to spend billions of dollars now for a vast new rail network across Amferica. Who, among those grown-up little boys who remember them, doesn’t like trains?
Scott Walker, the new Republican governor of Wisconsin, for starters f and Mr. Obama, visiting Wisconsin on the morning after congressional date night in Washington, learned about it up close and personal. One of the goodies at the top of the president’s fantastical Christmas list is a high-speed rail link between Milwaukee and Madison, and in one of his first acts as governor, Mr. Walker scratched that from the list of schemes in a new stimulus program. “The train has left the station in Wisconsin,” he said. “We’re going to focus on things we can afford.”
The president has more in mind than toy trains for grown-ups. He wants to spend billions and billions of dollars on “research and development” in “clean and renewable energy,” a scheme no longer cast as part of the discredited global-warming scam, but it’s clear that it’s the same old dog meat under a new label. The label is fresh, even if the dog isn’t. He wants to recruit 100,000 new science, technology, engineering and mathematics teachers over the next decade. Recruiting 100,000 new teachers is a noble goal, but where could we find them now that we’ve invested so much money in turning out so many doctors of self-esteem? He prescribes new taxes to repair crumbling roads, bridges (including those to nowhere) to be “fully paid for” over the next six years. And so on and so on.
There was sobering-up news for a truly repentant president just as his plane touched down in a snowstorm at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a projection of budget woes that underlines the skepticism of the president’s rosy fantasies about what America needs to avoid seizure by Chinese repo men. The CBO says the size of the deficit will reach $1.5 trillion this year, up from $1.29 trillion last year, and $50 billion worse than Mr. Obama predicted last year. The deficit is already 9.8 percent of the nation’s entire economic production, almost at the level of World War II, when nearly everything went into the war effort.
“A billion dollars here, and a billion dollars there,” the late Everett Dirksen, once the leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate, is said to have mused, “and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” Now we’re talking trillions. (Next up are quadrillions, and after that quintillions. The Treasury Department should already be programming a computer to count that high.)
Some of the Republicans in the House are scared, even if the president isn’t. “This report is a reflection of the gross mismanagement of our nation’s finances,” Rep. Tom Price of Georgia tells the Wall Street Journal. “It should make every American think twice about the latest calls by the president to increase spending at a time when Washington can clearly not afford to pay its bills.”
The president conceded a reluctant willingness in his Tuesday night speech to freeze “non-discretionary and defense spending” at current levels, but that’s only a high-stakes shell game. The Republican Study Committee, a caucus of more than two-thirds of the Republicans in the new House, suggests how Congress could cut $100 billion from the budget and get rid of spending it never should have undertaken in the first place. This includes giving up federal control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (the wonderful folks who brought us the real-estate bubble), Amtrak, wasteful “green” energy research, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts. This means the aficionados of NPR and Nina Totenberg will have to dig a little deeper during the monthly begging season, our artists will have to get back to their garrets to emulate the old masters, and Barack Obama must postpone, again, getting his toy train. But it would be good news for the rest of us. The Chinese repo men would have to wait.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.