While Democrats have spent the last few months trying in vain to engender a public outcry about income inequality, the greatest challenge facing the country remains the same: a long-term budget and debt crisis fueled by the rising cost of entitlements that can’t be fixed with token spending cuts or higher taxes on the rich. But the 2015 budget that President Obama will propose this year will ignore it. Instead of building on the discussions that he has had with Republicans in recent years in which he has at least contemplated a form of entitlement reform, there will be no mention of indexing cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients or any other measure intended to check the growth of expenditures by the government. Instead, the president is proposing $56 billion more in federal spending on pet projects.
This means nothing in terms of what the legislative branch will actually wind up passing—if indeed both the House and the Senate are actually able to pass a budget before the current Congress is adjourned and replaced by a new one next January—since the Republican majority in the House will not even consider the president’s proposal. What he will be giving the country is not so much an economic blueprint as a political manifesto of Democratic beliefs. As such, it is a useful guide to how Democrats will run in November’s midterm elections. Though liberals are fond of chiding the GOP for being a prisoner of the Tea Party rather than a party of ideas, the Obama budget makes it clear that the Democrats intend to face the people in the fall as a brain-dead status quo party that is addicted to taxes and spending. This may please a liberal base that is flexing its muscles after the victories of ideologues such as Elizabeth Warren and Bill de Blasio. But it’s hard to imagine how they think they can hold the Senate or avoid losing more seats in the House running to the hard left in the wake of the ObamaCare disaster that has soured the public on the big-government paradigm.
While the president has charted a hard-left approach, the White House is still pretending that he is a moderate facing off against right-wing extremists. That was the spin today coming from the president’s spokesman who claimed it was the GOP’s fault that entitlement reform was absent from the budget. The administration line is that since Republicans still oppose raising taxes, Obama feels empowered to drop his willingness to confront entitlements. But this is a lame excuse that won’t be believed even by his most loyal supporters.
By proposing a budget that refuses to contemplate any fix for the crisis that threatens to ultimately bankrupt the government, the president is seeking to enable Democrats to run to the left this year by defending entitlements and accusing Republicans of planning to throw grandmothers in wheelchairs over the cliff. He seems to believe that Americans are so addicted to government benefits and so fearful of any talk of reform that Democrats can blithely ignore fiscal reality and win big.
But if this strategy sounds familiar, it should. This was the same approach Democrats tried in 2010 when they blasted the GOP as radicals who wanted to take away Social Security and Medicare from senior citizens and further impoverish the poor. Just as in that midterm vote, Democrats are ignoring the specter of ObamaCare and hewing to their belief that only wingnut Tea Partiers care about the debt. In 2010 voters showed Democrats you didn’t have to be a fringe right-winger to care about restraining the growth of government. But since worries about the impact of the president’s signature health-care legislation are, if anything, even greater in 2014 than they were then, the president’s strategy may turn out to be a colossal mistake.
The growing number of ObamaCare losers who are being hurt by the new law may well outnumber those who benefit from it. Moreover, most of the swing seats that are up for grabs this year are in states where the president’s big-government manifesto will not only fall flat but also be a handicap to Democratic candidates. The liberal base never liked the idea of cutting spending no matter what tax increases the GOP might have proposed. All they want to hear from the president is a rigorous defense of more “investment”—government lingo for spending money plucked from the wallets of taxpayers on various federal projects and Obama boondoggles—and no reform of entitlements. That’s what the president has given them. But embattled Democrats in danger of losing this November will not thank him for drawing such a stark distinction between the parties on this seminal issue. Running on the status quo is always a political loser.