WASHINGTON -- The newly elected Republican-led House was peacefully sworn into office Thursday as GOP leaders began planning for four years of divided government.
If you thought the past year was a rocky one, 2013 may make the political trench warfare battles of 2012 look like a Sunday school picnic.
Soon after the smoke cleared in the wee hours of New Year's Day, when Congress had taken the government to the precipice of the "fiscal cliff," and even a bit over, it was clear that ever more contentious battles awaited incoming lawmakers.
There were the automatic spending cuts buried in the fiscal cliff business that Congress put off until March 1. And in late March, a critical funding bill to keep the federal government operating is due to expire. The bet here is the government will not shut down, but the tea party warriors are angry and looking for some budget scalps.
Meantime, a bitter debt-ceiling war is likely to be fought once again -- this time on the Treasury Department's request to lift the nation's $16.4 trillion legal borrowing limit by another $2 trillion or more to pay the government's bills.
President Obama petulantly warned Congress this week that he will not tolerate "another debate with this Congress over whether or not they should pay the bills that they've already racked up."
Oh, really. Apparently, Obama skipped class on the day his Harvard constitutional law professor dealt with the part of our governing document that states Congress is a co-equal branch of government. It can debate everything and anything it wants, whether the chief executive likes it or not.
And if any fiscal issue needs a prolonged, thorough and critical debate on the House and Senate floor nowadays, it is the monstrous and unsustainable size of our debt, which threatens our financial future.
And what's this business about paying off "the bills that they've (meaning the Congress) already racked up"? Members of Congress, who've been spending like there's no tomorrow on our credit card, deserve a huge share of the blame.
But Obama is hardly blameless. He's been a willing accomplice in the spending binge of the past four years, working hand-in-glove with the drunken spenders in Congress, signing massively costly bills like his national health care law (more on this one later).
Congress has the power to authorize spending and to appropriate such funds as it sees fit, but the president also has the power to block such spending with the stroke of a pen. It's called the veto, a budget-balancing tool he didn't use in his first four years and isn't likely to use in his next four.
No president in American history has piled up as much debt as quickly as Obama. No president has spent more than Obama over the same period, nor run up anywhere remotely near the unprecedented budget deficits that he's recorded in each of the four budgets over which he's presided.
Does anyone remember the president's promise at the beginning of his administration? He declared in 2009: "Today I'm pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office."
Here's his yearly budget deficit record thus far: $1.4 trillion in 2009; $1.3 trillion in 2010; $1.3 trillion in 2011; and $1.2 trillion in 2012, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.
Obama is presently on track to deliver his fifth budget deficit in the 2013 fiscal year totaling $1.1 trillion, with similar deficits lined up as far as the eye can see.
These are not "inherited" deficits that he can blame on his predecessor. These are Obama's deficits. He is the chief executive officer, and it is his policies that are hugely responsible for making them.
Certainly entitlements like Social Security and Medicare are responsible for the lion's share of the spiraling growth rate in spending. But new spending proposals are adding to that bill, too, and Obama's proposed a lot of spending, as in his $800 billion, 1930s-style public-works stimulus plan that hardly made a dent in the nation's unemployment rate.
The real cost of Obamacare isn't fully known at this time, but it has been steadily rising with each new budget estimate and is racing toward the trillion-dollar level faster than anyone realizes.
Obamacare supporter and former Treasury Department official David Gamage told The Wall Street Journal: "I have been researching Obamacare and assisting with its implementation, and have come to this realization: Without further reforms, the law will create unnecessary costs for working-class Americans."
But Obama's largest role in the nation's mushrooming deficits and debts has to do with his abject failure to get the American economy growing again at a stronger rate.
As he enters the fifth year of his economically troubled presidency, the painfully sluggish economy continues to shuffle along at a subpar 2 percent a year. This has meant weak monthly job-creation figures, and unnecessarily high unemployment and mediocre business earnings, which in turn mean lower tax revenues and thus higher deficits.
"The economy must add more than 356,000 jobs each month for three years to lower unemployment to 6 percent, and that is not likely with current policies," says University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.
"That would require (economic) growth in the range of 4 to 5 percent. Without better trade, energy and regulatory policies and lower health care costs and (lower) taxes on small business, that is simply not going to happen," Morici says.
This is why we need a vigorous debt ceiling debate, and maybe companion legislation to force Obama to agree to deeper spending cuts than thus far he is willing to accept.
We can't continue to have trillion dollar-plus deficits and spend money we don't have, but that's the path his tax-and-spend, anti-economic growth policies have put us on.
If they continue, says Morici, our country is "headed for a Greek-style train wreck by the end of the decade."
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