On the home page of the Office of Management and Budget website, President Obama is quoted: "Rather than fight the same tired battles that have dominated Washington for decades, it's time to try something new."
If only he would, but the president's proposed $3.7 trillion budget is more of the same: taxing and spending for which liberal Democrats are known and "cuts" as in Pell Grants and home heating assistance for the poor he knows congressional Democrats are unlikely to approve. It is also full of assumptions about revenue and a rosy scenario on economic growth that is more than double current growth.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), chairman of a Republican Study Committee made up of economic and socially conservative members, told me over breakfast Tuesday, "the $1.1 trillion savings claim made by the president over 10 years is nothing. This year's deficit is $1.5 trillion."
The president's budget is more a political document designed to trap Republicans into going first with serious entitlement reform than a serious proposal. The Washington Post and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, both historically liberal newspapers, say he "punted" on the budget and "kicks the hard choices further down the road" (Post) and the projected deficit "would be larger, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than any deficit between 1940 and 2008" (Journal-Constitution). The proposed spending cuts in the budget are, according to Investors Business Daily, "beyond absurd. The expected deficit this year alone ... is greater than all 'deficit cuts' Obama has in 10 years."
While House Republicans want to cut $100 billion from monstrous spending in the current and fiscal 2012 budgets and Democrats are in their familiar full-throated cry about how such "deep cuts" would be cruel toward the "needy." But even Democrats know what must be done to get spending under control: entitlements, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, which make up nearly two-thirds of the federal budget, must be reformed now.
Rep. Jordan tells me that in spite of the potential for political fallout, House Republicans will offer a plan for entitlement reform by the August recess. He believes it will include means testing and some form of vouchers that will allow people to shop for their own health care in the private sector and for younger workers to have the opportunity to invest their money in a personal retirement account that earns interest and belongs to them. "The American people are ready for truth, facts and some tough love measures," says Jordan, adding, "the window to fix our country is closing rapidly and it will only get worse if we don't act now."
The key to what is bound to be hand-to-hand combat in the coming debate will be whether Republicans can change our "entitlement" mentality and cause people to focus instead on economic liberty and personal freedom. Can government do more for you than you can do for yourself? If Medicare and Social Security are going broke, why would anyone trust even bigger and costlier government to do better with more of our money?
Some Democrats, like Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), are concerned about the continued level of deficit spending. Conrad believes the nation needs "a much more robust package of deficit and debt reduction over the medium and long term. It is not enough to focus primarily on cutting the non-security discretionary part of the budget, which accounts for just 12 percent of spending this year. Instead, we need a comprehensive long-term debt reduction plan, in the size and scope of what was proposed by the President's Fiscal Commission." President Obama ignored the commission's recommendations.
Changing the way we think about entitlements, economic liberty and personal responsibility will be a challenge for congressional Republicans. They've tried before and Democrats demagogued them into submission. They will try to re-run the same play this time. One hopes Rep. Jordan is right that the country is ready for truth, facts and tough love.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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