The Ship Is Sinking: Quick, Add Water

Mona Charen

4/1/2009 12:01:00 AM - Mona Charen

Let's imagine that President Obama decides to go help out in Fargo, N.D., where they are experiencing floods. Mr. Obama enters the home of a flooded family. The water is already 6 inches high in the living room. The president produces a fire hose and begins to douse the room with even more water. "What are you doing?" cry the anguished homeowners. The president fixes them with one of his impatient looks and explains "May I remind you that I inherited this flood?"

President Obama has reminded us countless times that he inherited a $1.3 trillion deficit. Even if he were about to propose the most responsible, prudent, visionary budget imaginable, that complaint would still be petulant and unseemly. But considering what Obama's own spending will do to the deficit, it's jaw-droppingly galling. He now proposes to increase that deficit to $7 trillion in 10 years. And that $7 trillion is probably a low estimate (the Congressional Budget Office estimates that it will be $2.3 trillion higher). When the new spending for programs like Pell Grants, education for handicapped children and so forth comes up for renewal in a few years, Congress is not going to let it lapse. So, to review, it was terrible for President Bush and the Democratic Congress (the president neglects to mention them) to saddle him with all this debt. His answer is to triple it. That's showing 'em!

Some cynics insist that Democrats only decry spending they dislike (such as on the military) and Republicans only deprecate spending they dislike (such as on welfare). There's a germ of truth in this -- but only a germ. In the first place, a significant number of Republicans chastise other Republicans for failing to live up to their lean government principles. And some Republicans are honest enough to criticize spending their party generally favors. John McCain, for example, has been a scourge of Pentagon contractors. It's hard to think of a comparably positioned Democrat who has targeted waste, fraud, or abuse in social service programs or education spending.

Even taking account of the Democrats' traditional love of lavish government programs, the current gusher quite takes your breath away. In just the first two months of his term, President Obama has proposed the largest increase in federal spending since World War II. If his budget in enacted, the national debt will be close to 100 percent of GDP in nine years. The Obama/Pelosi/Reid triumvirate is massively increasing government debt at the same time that individuals are struggling to reduce their private debt. So Mr. and Mrs. Jones are cutting back on meals out at restaurants, new clothes, new cars, and fancy cell phones, while the government is going into deep debt on their behalf to pay for windmills, universal preschool, and lots of new transfer payments dressed up as "making work pay." In other words, the state is taking decisions about how much debt Mr. and Mrs. Jones will incur out of their hands. The Joneses will have to pay back the debt some time (or their children will), but they will not be paying off their own purchases or their kids' college educations. Instead they will be paying for the Democrats' dream agenda. As the Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore notes, "Most of the money that has been borrowed since September 2008 has been used to bail out irresponsible borrowers, failed financial institutions and car companies, and for expansions of welfare programs. ... Any unbiased assessment of the return on investment ... for these programs would find dismally low payoffs for taxpayers."

The sheer size of this proposed debt is making even Europeans quake. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has three times declined the urging of Obama administration officials to mimic America's debt spree. Some Europeans are even becoming role models for Republicans. As Veronique de Rugy reports in National Review Online, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., introduced an amendment "to ensure that the budget of the Federal Government is put on a sustainable path by prohibiting consideration of a budget resolution that does not meet the minimum standard of budgetary discipline as defined by the Treaty on European Union (the Maastricht Treaty): a budget deficit no larger than 3 percent of GDP and government debt no larger than 60 percent of GDP." The amendment was rejected.

Sen. Gregg, nobody's idea of an hysteric, is profoundly worried: "... if you take all the debt of our country run up by all of our presidents from George Washington through George W. Bush, the total debt over all those 200-plus years since we started as a nation, it is President Obama's plan to double that debt in just the first five years that he is in office."

To quote the theme song of the TV show "Monk," "If you paid attention, you'd be worried, too."