President Obama thinks the debate over raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling isn't the place or the time to be discussing runaway spending.
Essentially, that was his message Monday in a full-court press of Republicans in Congress for having the temerity to suggest that before we raise the debt ceiling by another $2 trillion, maybe we should begin discussing how to reduce spending, how to shrink our monstrous national debt, and how the government must begin living within its means.
With the government debt soaring toward $17 trillion -- and likely to skyrocket to $25 trillion by the end of Mr. Obama's second term -- if this isn't the time to map out a plan to bring down spending, when is?
The president says that moment will come after the debt ceiling is raised, and not before. But Republicans and taxpayers have bought into Mr. Obama's flimflam promises before and have come up empty-handed when budget-making time rolled around.
The president knows he can depend on the Democratic majority in the Senate, which has been a black hole where GOP House budgets disappear, never to be seen again.
House Republicans have sent over budgets to slow the growth in spending, and each time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has tossed them into the wastebasket. It is not widely known by most Americans, but we've been without a budget for the past three years because the Senate has refused to adopt a formal budget resolution. Mr. Reid says we don't need one.
Living within one's means requires making a budget and sticking to it. Families do it. States do it. But when was the last time you heard Mr. Obama call on Congress to send him a budget? He seems to be happy without one.
Why not? It's allowed Mr. Obama and the Democrats to engage in their favorite fiscal pastime: deficit spending.
They've been on a historically unprecedented spending binge since 2009, and here are the budget deficits over the past four years to prove it: $1.4 trillion in 2009; $1.3 trillion in 2010; $1.3 trillion in 2011; and an estimated $1.2 trillion in 2012, according to the Congressional Budget Office. This year's budget deficit, according to CBO, is on track to come in at $1.1 trillion.
If you are counting, this adds $6.3 trillion to our national debt, yet Mr. Obama says the debt ceiling debate isn't the appropriate time to talk about budget cutting.
House Speaker John A. Boehner doesn't see it that way. "The American people do not support raising the debt ceiling without reducing government spending at the same time," he said Monday in response to Mr. Obama's attacks on the GOP. "The consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling are real, but so, too, are the consequences of allowing our spending problem to go unresolved."
That sounds pretty reasonable to me. But it was clear from Mr. Obama's combative remarks Monday, with disturbing illusions of hostage-taking, ransom demands and "a gun at the head of the American people," that he's looking for a political fight, that his campaign isn't over, and that this is the way he's going to govern for the next four years.
He repeated his annoying re-election boast, which he's made quite often since Election Day, that "the American people agreed with me."
"So [the Republicans] got a particular view of what government should do and should be. And, you know, that view was rejected by the American people."
The American people also voted to keep the House in Republican hands by a decisive margin. Don't they have a say in this, too? Apparently, Mr. Obama doesn't think so.
Mr. Boehner sincerely believes that blocking the debt ceiling hike cannot be an option in any discussion about the size of the budget, and has said that a government default on our debt would have a calamitous effect on our economy.
This doesn't mean, however, a reasonable agreement can't be reached that cuts spending by the same amount we raise the debt ceiling, which is what he wants to do.
The irony in all of this -- and let's throw in hypocrisy, too -- is that then-freshman Sen. Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling in 2006 when he was attacking President George W. Bush just about every other day. Here's what he said at the time, according to National Review Online:
"The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our government's reckless fiscal policies. Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that 'the buck stops here.' Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better."
Mr. Bush's budget deficit in fiscal 2006 was a tame $242 billion when Mr. Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling. It fell to $161 billion in 2007 -- delivering on Mr. Bush's promise to cut the deficit in half -- the year before the great recession hit and tax revenues plunged, boosting the 2008 deficit.
Mr. Bush's last four deficits totaled $1.1 trillion. Mr. Obama's first four deficits totaled $5.2 trillion.
On Feb. 23, 2009, Mr. Obama promised the American people he would "cut the deficit we inherited by the end of my first term in office." Not even close. Not only have his record budget deficits remained in the trillion-plus range, but they are expected to stay in that range for the next several years at best and, possibly, for the rest of this decade.
The president is still blaming George W. Bush for his sky-high budget deficits, while others are more accurately calling the mountain of debt Mr. Obama has piled up "a failure of leadership."
In the final analysis, the two sides in this debate have been talking past one another. The Republicans want to work out a plan to cut spending and shrink the debt, while Mr. Obama seems fixated on shifting the blame, picking a fight and scoring political points.
The latter doesn't sound like leadership to me.
Donald Lambro is a syndicated columnist and former chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.
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