Mona Charen

Well, now we have the answer to the question posed Nov. 2: Will President Obama, faced with an electorate infuriated by big government overreach, pivot as Bill Clinton did in 1995 and become a centrist? By offering a budget that adds a gob-smacking $8 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, the president has answered that question in the negative.

At his press conference, the president displayed all the classic symptoms of what could be called Liberal Obduracy Syndrome (or LOS). For Obama, every single appropriation in the monster we call a federal budget is precious -- so that he must approach it with "a scalpel, not a meat ax," as he once put it.

How some of us long for a meat ax!

Casting around for examples of blatantly, incontrovertibly virtuous uses of taxpayer money, Obama cited two: college loans and infant formula for poor children. "Are we only serious about education in the abstract, but when it's the concrete, we're not willing to put the money into it? If we're cutting infant formula to poor kids, is that who we are as a people?"

Oh, please. Since passage of the Higher Education Act in 1965 (those Great Society programs never went away; they just "growed" like Topsy), the federal government has spent billions on higher education. Though it is doubtful that the Founders ever conceived of a federal role in education at all, we've been lavishly funding students, colleges, and universities (over and above what the states spend) for decades. Between 2000 and 2008, federal aid to higher education jumped from $10 billion to $30 billion. And in 2009/2010, the federal government spent $41.3 billion on grant aid for undergraduate and graduate students.

You can make an argument that this spending represents an "investment" in the future of the country. But liberals never account for the distorting effects of government subsidies. Economist Richard Vedder, in "Going Broke by Degree," outlined the pattern:

"... America has gotten itself into a vicious cycle with respect to higher education financing that goes like this: In year 1, tuition goes up fairly substantially. Political pressures build to 'do something' about the increases. Congress expands guaranteed student loan programs to make education more affordable, in turn increasing the demand for education and allowing universities in year 2 ... to raise prices further. The result is a further expansion of student loan programs, state scholarship efforts, and other third-party funding."

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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