Jacob Sullum

Decrying "a decade of deficits" on Monday, President Obama declared that "my budget lays out a path for how we can pay down these debts." It is hard to see how that can be true, since his plan would add $6.7 trillion to the national debt during the next decade.

Obama thus begins his fourth year in office the way he began his first, preaching prudence while practicing profligacy. Back then, you may recall, he promised to cut the deficit, at that point estimated to be $1.3 trillion, "at least in half by the end of his first term," as a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget put it in February 2009.

How did that work out? Obama's first budget projected a deficit of $533 billion for fiscal year 2013. The budget he unveiled this week raises that figure to $901 billion, so he missed his target by about 70 percent.

What happened? In 2009, Obama had a "strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don't, and restoring fiscal discipline." In practice, given the president's broad view of what counts as a necessary investment, that meant spending more while pretending to spend less. This year, the deficit is expected to be more than $1.3 trillion, which is higher than it was last year, which was higher than it was the year before.

Yet Obama is still singing the same tune. While declaring that "the fiscal realities we face require hard choices" and bemoaning "the chronic failure to confront difficult decisions," he says the government must "invest in those things that are absolutely critical to preparing our people and our nation for the economic competition of our time." Apparently those things include not only "education, innovation and infrastructure," but also such seemingly noncritical programs as the National Endowment for the Arts, which gets a 5 percent boost under his plan.

Abolishing the NEA, of course, would not yield much savings, since it accounts for only 0.004 percent of federal spending. But the program is symbolically significant, since it is totally unnecessary, and it's not as if the president is above touting tiny spending cuts. His budget plan includes a 205-page volume detailing "210 cuts, consolidations and savings measures" that together total $24 billion next year, less than 1 percent of federal spending.

Obama also brags that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will "reduce our budget deficits by more than $200 billion in its first decade," citing a projection by the Congressional Budget Office. That estimate, the CBO warns, is "quite uncertain," hinging on Medicare spending controls that "may be difficult to sustain" and insurance subsidy rates that Congress is apt to raise in response to political pressure.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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