President Obama meets with congressional leaders at the White House Friday to start negotiating a resolution to the “fiscal cliff.” He’s expected to continue insisting that tax increases can solve the debt crisis. Republicans are right to hold to the line that the trillion-dollar-plus deficits on Mr. Obama’s watch will never shrink unless outlays are reduced.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, broker of last year’s debt deal, gets it. “We don’t happen to think the government needs more revenue. Government spends too much as it is,” the Kentucky Republican said on the Senate floor Thursday. “But if Democrats are willing to reduce spending and strengthen entitlement programs — which we all know are on an unsustainable path that threatens their own long-term viability and the economic well-being of our children and grandchildren — then we’ll be there.”
For his part, Mr. Obama indicated Wednesday that he’s willing to expend his second-term capital to win those tax increases. In his press conference, the president mentioned the word taxes 30 times and revenue three times. He only referred to spending once and entitlements twice.
It’s not that Mr. Obama doesn’t understand the problem. He’ll say, “I believe that we have to continue to take a serious look at how we reform our entitlements because health care costs continue to be the biggest driver of our deficits.” Yet his lack of action on entitlement reform proves he doesn’t really mean it. In four years, he hasn’t put forward a single legislative proposal on the subject.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report last week underscoring the depth of the problem and suggesting the serious consequences of doing nothing about it. CBO found outlays for the federal government’s major health care programs (Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and subsidies offered through Obamacare) will total 6.3 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in just seven years. That’s 133 percent more than has been spent, on average, in the past 40 years on such programs.
Costs are spiraling upward as the oldest baby boomers hit retirement. People also are living longer — the number of those older than 65 is projected to spike by one-third over the next 10 years. Combine this with the rising costs of health care in general and the increasing demands of the Obamacare mandate, and it’s easy to see the situation is unsustainable.
Mr. Obama also has been mum recently about the half of the fiscal cliff that is the mandatory sequestration of funds. In the final campaign debate, Mr. Obama said it just “will not happen,” but he has yet to give an alternative way to repay the trillions he has been borrowing. The problem isn’t cutting off funds to Uncle Sam, it’s the way Democrats skewed the hit to come disproportionately from our national defense.
In the Oval Office meeting, Republicans need to stick to their principles and only offer a do-over that ends up giving the entire government an across-the-board nip-and-tuck. The last thing Washington needs is more revenue. The economy can’t grow unless Americans are able to keep and invest more of what they earn.
Emily Miller is a senior editor for the Opinion pages at The Washington Times.