Steve Chapman

Then there is the matter of bombs and bullets. Neither party is prepared to reduce our military budget, which has grown by a staggering 45 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past decade -- not counting the cost of our two wars.

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's "Roadmap for America's Future" presents an ambitious blueprint for fiscal balance. Amount he would squeeze from the Pentagon: zero. Obama wants to "cut" defense outlays, but only in the sense of not letting them grow quite so fast.

But the biggest part of the bipartisan fraud is the refusal to deal with the outlays that are out of control. The Congressional Budget Office notes that "almost all of the projected growth in federal spending other than interest payments on the debt comes from growth in spending on the three largest entitlement programs -- Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security."

At the rate they are growing, the federal government will spend as much on them in 2050 as it spent on (SET ITAL) everything (END ITAL) 10 years ago. Unless they are restrained, our leaders can save a lot of money elsewhere and accomplish nothing. If you're driving toward a cliff, slowing down will delay the crash, but it won't improve your fate.

The beauty of this approach is that it lets politicians look tough on spending without antagonizing an inordinate number of voters. The shortcoming is that it leaves the debt crisis to keep growing.

_Obama admitted Tuesday that to make real progress, "we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough." But really, our leaders have just begun to pretend.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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