By Daniel J. Mitchell
Chalk up another victory — at least on the rhetorical level — for the Tea Party.
President Obama will release his fiscal year 2012 budget tomorrow and he’s apparently become a born-again fiscal conservative. Here are some excerpts from a Washington Post story:
President Obama will respond to a Republican push for a drastic reduction in government spending by proposing sharp cuts of his own in a fiscal 2012 budget blueprint that aims to trim record federal deficits by $1.1 trillion over the next decade. …two-thirds of the savings would come from spending cuts that are draconian by Democratic standards… When it lands Monday on Capitol Hill, Obama’s plan will launch a bidding war with Republicans over how deeply and swiftly to cut, as the two parties seek a path to fiscal stability for a nation awash in red ink.
I’m skeptical of battlefield conversions, particularly when politicians utilize the dishonest Washington definition of a budget cut — increasing spending by less than previously planned. So the first thing I’ll do when the budget is released is to visit the Historical Tables of the Budget website and see what spending is projected to be in 2011 and what Obama is asking for in 2012.
Those numbers probably won’t be accurate since the Obama administration (like previous ones) will use best-case assumptions, but at least we’ll get a sense of whether:
a) spending actually is being cut (I’m not holding my breath for this miracle), or
b) spending is frozen at current levels (this approach would balance the budget by 2017, but it’s almost as unlikely at the first option), or
c) spending is being restrained (perhaps 2 percent growth, enough to keep pace with inflation), or
d) spending is growing far too fast (say 4 percent growth, pushing America quickly in the wrong direction), or
e) spending is continuing to explode (5 percent growth, 6 percent growth, or even more, meaning we’ll be Greece sooner than we think).
My guess, for what it’s worth, is that the Obama administration will claim (d) but will actually be proposing (e) if more realistic assumptions are used.
Needless to say, I hope I’m wrong. But other parts of the Washington Post story give me little reason for hope. The White House apparently is ignoring entitlements. Heck, the administration apparently isn’t even planning on meeting the President’s own deficit goal.
The blueprint ducks the harder task of tackling the biggest drivers of future deficits: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid… Obama’s blueprint does not even hit the short-term goal he set for his commission – reducing deficits to 3 percent of the economy by 2015.
The White House also plans to play a shell game with certain parts of the budget. Supposed spending cuts in health care won’t generate taxpayer savings. Instead, they’ll be used to finance more spending on Medicare, enabling the President to cancel savings that were promised as part of Obamacare. The interest groups win and the taxpayers lose.
The Obama blueprint also seeks to eliminate two budget gimmicks that Congress has long used to mask the true depth of the red ink: His proposal would offset higher Medicare payments to doctors by cutting $62 billion from other areas of federal health spending. And it would adjust the alternative minimum tax through 2014 to prevent it from hitting middle-class taxpayers, covering the cost by limiting the value of itemized deductions such as charitable contributions and mortgage interest for wealthy households.
The same shell game takes place on the tax side of the fiscal ledger. The White House plans to cancel one future tax increase and “pay” for that change by imposing another future tax increase. Once again, taxpayers get the short end of the stick.
Unless the Washington Post story is completely inaccurate, the Obama administration is not changing course. There may not be any major initiatives to expand the burden of government, like the failed stimulus or the budget busting government-run healthcare scheme, but it certainly does not seem like there are any plans to reverse direction and shrink the burden of government.