Obama has no plan to balance the budget -- ever. He asserted "every kind of spending [is] on the table." But every kind of spending is not on the table. He virtually ruled out cutting Social Security, the government’s biggest program (2011 spending: $727 billion). For example, Social Security is excluded from a proposed "trigger" that would automatically reduce spending and raise taxes if certain deficit targets weren’t met. He also put Medicare (2011 spending: $572 billion) largely off-limits.Agreed.
The president keeps promoting an "adult conversation" about the budget, but that can’t happen if the First Adult doesn’t play his part. Obama is eager to be all things to all people. He’s against the debt and its adverse consequences, but he’s for preserving Social Security and Medicare without major changes. He’s for "tough cuts," but he’s against saying what they are and defending them. He pronounces ambitious goals without saying how they’d be reached. Mainly, he’s for scoring political points against Republicans.
Deficit politics are inherently unpopular. One way -- maybe the only way -- to break today’s deadlock is to alter public opinion so that some government benefits are seen as unnecessary or illegitimate and some taxes are seen as fair burden-sharing.
Given better health, longer life expectancy and wealthier elderly, why shouldn’t Social Security and Medicare eligibility ages be raised and means-testing broadened? The president doesn’t broach this debate. Farmers receive about $15 billion a year in crop subsidies to help offset the insecurities of weather and fluctuating prices. Considering that volatile markets impose similar insecurities on many Americans, why do farmers deserve special protection? The president doesn’t engage that debate. Might not a higher gasoline tax reduce budget deficits and oil imports? Obama is silent there, too.
(via reader Doug J.)