Commentary Magazine


Sometimes You Just Have To Say “No”

David Broder, (echoing Democrats like Alice Rivlin and virtually every elected Republican) declares the Democratic budget to be a menace:

With a bit of bookkeeping legerdemain borrowed from the Bush administration, the Democratic Congress is about to perform a cover-up on the most serious threat to America’s economic future.

That threat is not the severe recession, tough as that is for the families and businesses struggling to make ends meet. In time, the recession will end, and last week’s stock market performance hinted that we may not have to wait years for the recovery to begin.

The real threat is the monstrous debt resulting from the slump in revenue and the staggering sums being committed by Washington to rescuing embattled banks and homeowners — and the absence of any serious strategy for paying it all back.

Yes, there is some fiddling here and there with the top-line numbers by the Senate Democrats, but Broder rightly points out that much of this is budget gimmickry. His final tongue lashing is reserved for Nancy Pelosi, who is resisting the call for a bipartisan commission on entitlement reform:

The roadblock in chief is Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. She has made it clear that her main goal is to protect Social Security and Medicare from any significant reforms. Pelosi has not forgotten how Democrats benefited from the 2005-06 fight against Bush’s effort to change Social Security. Her party, which had lost elections in 2000, 2002 and 2004, found its voice and its rallying cry to “Save Social Security,” and Pelosi is not about to allow any bipartisan commission take that issue away from her control.

The price for her obduracy is being paid in the rigging of the budget process. The larger price will be paid by your children and grandchildren, who will inherit a future-blighting mountain of debt.

Now much is being made of the Republicans’ disarray on coming up with a budget alternative. They will have their full budget next week. But shouldn’t the “party of no” get some credit from the David Broders and other mainstream observers for trying, as best they are able, to — yes, indeed — just say “no” to this fiscal madness? Alternatives are nice, but the essential task would be to alert the country and raise the consciousness of Democrats to the implications, both short and long term, of the budget.

The central question which the budget critics and many pundits are raising is whether we should take the leap into the abyss of “unsustainable debt” (as Peter Orzag conceded would be the case if the CBO figures are correct). If the answer is “no” then there is something to be said for the politicians — mostly Republicans but some conservative Democrats as well — who are trying to hold back the flood of red ink.