Ethics & Public Policy Center

On a Liberal Mission

Published in The New York Times



The Obama administration’s budget is deeply deceptive. Its claim to reduce the deficit by more than a trillion dollars over 10 years is based on annual growth rates far higher than what the Congressional Budget Office predicts. Inflating the economy’s growth in the manner President Obama does means his administration is assuming almost $2 trillion in revenues that are less credible than the tooth fairy.

Facing a fiscal crisis unlike anything we’ve experienced, the president has given us a record, $1.6 trillion deficit this year; a record fourth straight trillion-dollar plus deficit; a five-year spending freeze that is based on a domestic discretionary budget that has increased by more than 80 percent in three years (including stimulus spending); and that 10 years from now adds $13 trillion to the debt.

But what is most disturbing is that the president does nothing about our entitlement crisis, which is saddling us with crushing levels of debt.

This tells us two things. First, all the talk about the president tacking to the center is nonsense. He is attempting to recapture the tone and tenor of the 2008 campaign. But in terms of governing, he is still a man on a liberal mission, determined to fundamentally transform this country.

Second, Mr. Obama is gambling that this political moment is like past ones, where the public wants limited government in the abstract but big government in practice. He’s hoping their real cuts will badly damage the Republican Party while his imaginary one will help the Democratic Party. He thinks this is Clinton v. Gingrich circa 1995 all over again.

My hunch is that the president is wrong, that we’re in a new moment and the president’s abdication of responsibility will incur the wrath of the American polity. Republicans are betting more and more of them understand that, in the words Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana, “the American project is menaced by a survival-level threat” — meaning the debt our nation has amassed for itself over decades.

But whether I am right or wrong on the politics, the math is undeniable. Our situation is unsustainable — and the president, based on his budget, doesn’t seem to care.

Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, has worked in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, where he served as deputy assistant to the president.

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