EDITORIAL: Fiscal follies

Democrats must produce a realistic budget proposal

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The House on Thursday passed an ambitious plan to bring the budget into balance within the next 10 years. It’s a shame the spending blueprint, crafted by Rep. Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, isn’t likely to go far. President Obama is more interested in releasing his March Madness tournament picks than in pushing Democrats to deal with a mere budget.

Senate Democrats have, for the first time in four years, actually produced a proposed budget, as required by law. The document will serve as a useful starting point for a discussion — just not a very good one. Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, resolutely denies the reality that entitlement spending on programs such as Social Security and Medicare is bankrupting the country. Her proposal is so opposed to fiscal restraint that she would even reverse the microscopic spending reductions put in place through the sequestration.

Any serious attempt at returning America to a sustainable budget must begin with recognizing the reality that we can’t keep spending $3.6 trillion every year on revenue of $2.5 trillion. The numbers just don’t add up. White House tours have been shut down owing to claimed “austerity,” but the Congressional Budget Office says spending is up 2 percent for the first five months of the fiscal year. By 2023, government spending will rise another 58 percent to $5.7 trillion a year. (Just to appease the curious, if we run out of trillions sometime in the next century, there’s quadrillions and then quintillions, assuming the Chinese lend them to us.)

We’re headed in the wrong direction, and the Democratic proposal would hit the accelerator with a plan to stimulate the economy with $100 billion in new infrastructure outlays. If almost $1 trillion in “shovel-ready” projects did nothing to revive the market in 2009, there’s no reason to think that the smaller amount will do anything other than pile on to our $16.7 trillion debt (which rises to $24 trillion in a decade under the Senate plan).

The Murray budget claims to “cut” $975 billion, but it uses the usual Washington gimmicks. Some of the supposed savings will come from the end of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as if there were no question of maintaining a large military presence in those nations over the next decade. Other savings are supposed to come from eliminating “waste, fraud and abuse” and slashing Medicare health care providers’ reimbursements — the so-called “doc fix.” Such measures are often proposed, but they’re never implemented.

A recent poll conducted by The Hill newspaper found that 55 percent of respondents favor freezing taxes, cutting spending and balancing the budget, which is the approach taken in the Ryan proposal. Only 28 percent favor raising taxes and additional infrastructure spending. Increasing government spending has only produced a sluggish economy and high unemployment. It’s time for change.

The biggest downside of the House plan is that it fails to address Social Security. Still, it proposes block grants for Medicare and Medicaid, following a model that was successfully used for welfare reform under President Clinton, allowing states to craft solutions best suited to their needs. It also includes modest reforms, very modest, such as changing the calculation of cost of living increases for entitlements.

Entitlements already account for more than half of federal spending, so the budget cannot be fixed without reforming them. Perhaps when the president turns his attention to his budgetary duty, he’ll realize America’s future depends on fixing these bloated programs.

The Washington Times

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