Commentary Magazine


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Bait and Switch

We’ve seen this before: Obama doesn’t want big government but proposes the largest expansion of government since the New Deal. He doesn’t want to run a car company but takes over two of them. Now it is “pay-as-you-go” budgeting (PAYGO) which doesn’t exactly work as it has been billed.

This sounds good:

President Obama called on Congress yesterday to enact pay-as-you-go budget rules to help tame a deficit forecast to top $1.8 trillion this year. But even as some Democrats applauded the plan, others complained that it would give a free pass to expensive policies that would sink the nation trillions of dollars deeper into the red over the next 10 years.

The proposal would bar lawmakers from expanding entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security, creating programs such as universal health coverage or cutting taxes unless they cover the cost by raising taxes or cutting spending elsewhere. If, by year’s end, the White House budget office determined that new initiatives had not been paid for, the president would be required to make across-the-board cuts in entitlement spending.

But then we hear it doesn’t apply to healthcare: “It would carve out about $2.5 trillion worth of exemptions for Obama’s priorities over the next decade. His health care reform plan also would get a green light to run big deficits in its early years. But over a decade, Congress would have to come up with money to cover those early year deficits.”

Okay, this is how it works:

One big difference between Obama’s proposal and the Clinton-era rules, however, is that Obama would exempt an array of expensive policies currently in effect. For example, lawmakers could extend the tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration past their 2010 expiration date, restrain the growth of the alternative-minimum tax and continue to forestall scheduled payment cuts for Medicare physicians without consequence. All told, those policies would increase annual budget deficits by more than $3.5 trillion over the next decade.

Some independent analysts who support PAYGO rules objected to the loophole. “This is like quitting drinking, but making an exception for beer and hard liquor,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

[...]

“The president continues to display a frightening ability to say one thing, yet do the exact opposite,” said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.). “It’s frankly insulting that a president who is on a path to bankrupting our government would try to play the role of fiscal hawk.”

At some point the public gets the idea, as Joe Biden inelegantly put it, someone is getting scammed. Turns out it is the taxpayers and all those who voted for fiscal sobriety.