Commentary Magazine


Topic: budget

Obama Supporting the Troops?

Could the Obama administration make it any clearer that it has little regard or respect for the men and women who make the world safe so that the president can indulge so happily in the rich man’s game, and his wife and family can gallivant so luxuriously around the globe?

Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday on some strong opposition from the VFW, the Military Officers Association of America, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon to the Pentagon’s plan to lay some of its budget cutting squarely on the backs of military personnel by raising their healthcare fees.

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Could the Obama administration make it any clearer that it has little regard or respect for the men and women who make the world safe so that the president can indulge so happily in the rich man’s game, and his wife and family can gallivant so luxuriously around the globe?

Bill Gertz at the Washington Free Beacon reported yesterday on some strong opposition from the VFW, the Military Officers Association of America, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon to the Pentagon’s plan to lay some of its budget cutting squarely on the backs of military personnel by raising their healthcare fees.

Specifically, if President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta have their way, active duty servicemen and women will have to pay higher co-payments for prescriptions and will no longer get incentives for buying generic drugs.  And military retirees will see 30 percent to 78 percent increases in their annual healthcare premiums for the first year, and after that, five-year increases from 94 percent to 345 percent.

Meanwhile, guess who gets off scot-free in the budget-cutting scheme? Surprise! It’s civilian workers – in the Department of Defense and other agencies – who happen to belong to that last bastion of labor movement power, government employee unions. And just to hedge the president’s bets on another four cushy years in the White House, the increases aren’t scheduled to begin until after the election.

Oh, and, for anyone who still buys Obama’s promise that we’ll be able to keep our current plans if we like them, apparently his administration expects that one of the side benefits of the planned increases will be to push American soldiers, sailors and flyboys (and girls) away from their military healthcare plans and into the waiting arms of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act program.

Hot air about supporting our troops from Mrs. Obama and Dr. (Jill) Biden notwithstanding, it’s pretty obvious where the sympathies of this White House lie.

 

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The Messy Results of Self-Government

You can count on one hand (and maybe less) the number of public policy issues with which I agree with Barney Frank. But in an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” last week, Representative Frank made some sense.

When asked about what’s wrong with the budget process, Frank said the problem, at its core, is “indecision on the part of the voters.” He pointed out that Congress is not an autonomous instrument that operates on its own; public opinion has a lot of influence. “The public has a question it has to resolve,” according to Frank. “The public wants a certain level of government activity but it wants to provide a level of revenue that’s not enough for that activity.” The main reason we have a budget deficit is there’s “a greater public demand for services than there is a willingness to pay the taxes.” And his hope in 2012 is that we see “a resolution on the part of the public.”

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You can count on one hand (and maybe less) the number of public policy issues with which I agree with Barney Frank. But in an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” last week, Representative Frank made some sense.

When asked about what’s wrong with the budget process, Frank said the problem, at its core, is “indecision on the part of the voters.” He pointed out that Congress is not an autonomous instrument that operates on its own; public opinion has a lot of influence. “The public has a question it has to resolve,” according to Frank. “The public wants a certain level of government activity but it wants to provide a level of revenue that’s not enough for that activity.” The main reason we have a budget deficit is there’s “a greater public demand for services than there is a willingness to pay the taxes.” And his hope in 2012 is that we see “a resolution on the part of the public.”

We’ll see what the 2012 election brings. But there’s no doubt the public is complicit in the mess we’re in, and some of its disdain for Congress should reflect back on the polity. Consider politics on a national level since 2008. The public voted for Democratic control of the presidency, the House, and the Senate. Democrats then passed legislation many Americans didn’t like (and none of which was particularly surprising). Then, in 2010, the public — unhappy with the way things were going — registered its unhappiness, resulting in an epic mid-term win for Republicans. As a result, Republican won control of the House. And that, in turn, has led to gridlock, which was the inevitable outcome of the 2010 election. Yet, now many Americans are frustrated with gridlock and the fact that politicians can’t agree on things.

The legendary NFL football coach Bill Parcells used to say, “You are what your record says you are.” Similarly, the American people are what the government we voted for says we are. It’s the result of our hands, our voices, and our votes. No one ever said that self-government was easy or pretty.

 

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Barack Obama’s Theory of Government

The most recent budget submitted by President Obama continues his amazing streak. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is some of the data: Four years of spending of more than 24 percent of GDP, which translates into the four highest spending years since before the mid-point of the last century. A record four years of trillion-dollar plus deficits ($1.327 this year, an increase from last year). Revenues at historic lows because of an anemic recovery, including four years in a row when revenues won’t reach 16 percent of GDP. A record of more than $5 trillion in debt in a single presidential term. (During George W. Bush’s two terms, total deficit spending was $3.4 trillion.)

Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard points out that prior to Obama, our annual deficit spending had only exceeded 6 percent of GDP during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. But during Obama’s four years in the White House, annual deficit spending will average 8.4 percent of GDP (the figure is higher – 9.1 percent – if you count 2009, which some argue you should because Obama’s $800 billion stimulus passed in February).

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The most recent budget submitted by President Obama continues his amazing streak. Courtesy of the Wall Street Journal, here is some of the data: Four years of spending of more than 24 percent of GDP, which translates into the four highest spending years since before the mid-point of the last century. A record four years of trillion-dollar plus deficits ($1.327 this year, an increase from last year). Revenues at historic lows because of an anemic recovery, including four years in a row when revenues won’t reach 16 percent of GDP. A record of more than $5 trillion in debt in a single presidential term. (During George W. Bush’s two terms, total deficit spending was $3.4 trillion.)

Jeffrey Anderson of the Weekly Standard points out that prior to Obama, our annual deficit spending had only exceeded 6 percent of GDP during the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. But during Obama’s four years in the White House, annual deficit spending will average 8.4 percent of GDP (the figure is higher – 9.1 percent – if you count 2009, which some argue you should because Obama’s $800 billion stimulus passed in February).

These numbers are important, but they need to be understood above all as a manifestation of a particular philosophy, which some have called reactionary liberalism. Barack Obama has an almost undiluted attachment for and belief in the wondrous powers of the federal government. He believes the role of the state is to redistribute wealth and level out differences. He would trade off greater prosperity in all classes and income brackets in order to narrow the gap in income inequality, which he considers to be a moral offense. Obama wants to punish wealth creators, empower unelected bureaucrats, undermine private enterprise and centralize power.

Beyond even that, Obama wants government to weaken, and eventually replace, civil society, create greater dependency, and expand the state’s reach into every nook and cranny of life, including into the internal life of the church. And at a time when Medicare in particular is driving us toward a Greece-like crisis, the president opposes any modernization of our entitlement state and savages those who are offering up reforms.

More than any president in our lifetime, Barack Obama identifies the state with society and wants society absorbed by the state.

This is what is at the heart of the progressive project, and leading that project in the 21st century is the president of the United States. It is quite a thing to behold.

 

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The Obama Administration’s Systematic Deconstruction of Truth

Three years ago this month, Barack Obama made a public promise: “Today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office,” the new president said. The president reiterated his promise here, and here. In fact, Obama was repeating his commitment as late as December 2009, which is terribly inconvenient for those who say the president’s original broken promise can be forgiven because “there was a deeper hole to dig out of than anyone could have envisioned in January 2009.”

In fact, Obama and his team knew how deep the hole was in February 2009. But certainly by December 2009 – 11 months after he had been sworn in – it was clear to all the world just how deep the hole was.

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Three years ago this month, Barack Obama made a public promise: “Today I’m pledging to cut the deficit we inherited in half by the end of my first term in office,” the new president said. The president reiterated his promise here, and here. In fact, Obama was repeating his commitment as late as December 2009, which is terribly inconvenient for those who say the president’s original broken promise can be forgiven because “there was a deeper hole to dig out of than anyone could have envisioned in January 2009.”

In fact, Obama and his team knew how deep the hole was in February 2009. But certainly by December 2009 – 11 months after he had been sworn in – it was clear to all the world just how deep the hole was.

For the record, at the time Obama promised to cut the budget deficit in half by the end of his first term the deficit was $1.4 trillion. Yesterday we learned Obama’s own budget estimates an end-of-term budget deficit of $1.33 trillion. Which means the president not only didn’t break his promise; he shattered it into roughly 700 billion pieces.

That would be bad enough. What makes it worse is the Obama administration is simply denying the promise is broken.

On Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace played a video clip of Obama’s promise to cut the deficit in half. He then said to his guest, White House chief of staff Jack Lew, “Mr. Lew, the president isn’t close to keeping his promise to cut the deficit in half.”

Lew didn’t address this in his response. So Wallace tried again. “Would you agree that he didn’t keep the promise?”

To which Lew said, “No.”

Now there are some things that are legitimate matters of interpretation (for example, how effective or ineffective the stimulus package has been). But his is not one of them. That Obama broke his promise is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of mathematics.

Let’s see if we can help the Obama White House, shall we? To go from a budget deficit of $1.4 trillion to $1.33 trillion is not cutting the deficit in half. And to deny that a promise to do so has been broken is what is sometimes referred to as “dishonest.” Or, if you like, a “lie.”

It is also another example of the post-modernism of the Obama White House. Obama and his aides seem to believe facts mean nothing and “narrative” means everything. In other words, they can make it up as they go along. Now the systematic deconstruction of truth is something that happens fairly frequently in college liberal arts courses across America. But it’s something that is far more unusual to see in an American president.

Obama is basing his re-election on the premise that the American people are as indifferent to truth and facts as he is. I’m guessing he’s wrong, but we’ll know soon enough.

 

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Irrationality of Obama Budget Mortifies Democrats

Those seeking to understand President Obama’s new budget and what it says about the crushing disappointment Obama has been to a central mode of liberal self-congratulation need look no further than John Steele Gordon’s post from last week about the proposed “Zuckerberg tax.” John wrote about how Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was about to make a lot of money from his successful business, and liberals began trying to come up with a new rule that would allow the government to confiscate some of it.

John noted that “the perverse economic consequences of this would be almost without end” and wondered whether anything could “be more revelatory of the utter intellectual bankruptcy of latter-day liberalism” than the economically illiterate squawking parrot it has become. The answer is yes. While the Zuckerberg tax could be written off as one more ridiculous scheme, the president’s budget carries far more significance. And in this way, the damage to modern liberalism continues. Here’s James Pethokoukis at AEI:

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Those seeking to understand President Obama’s new budget and what it says about the crushing disappointment Obama has been to a central mode of liberal self-congratulation need look no further than John Steele Gordon’s post from last week about the proposed “Zuckerberg tax.” John wrote about how Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg was about to make a lot of money from his successful business, and liberals began trying to come up with a new rule that would allow the government to confiscate some of it.

John noted that “the perverse economic consequences of this would be almost without end” and wondered whether anything could “be more revelatory of the utter intellectual bankruptcy of latter-day liberalism” than the economically illiterate squawking parrot it has become. The answer is yes. While the Zuckerberg tax could be written off as one more ridiculous scheme, the president’s budget carries far more significance. And in this way, the damage to modern liberalism continues. Here’s James Pethokoukis at AEI:

Here’s pretty much all you need to know about Obamanomics: In 2011, the Obama White House suggested raising the top dividend tax rate to 20 percent from 15 percent. Keeping the dividend rate at a relatively low level, the White House said, “reduces the tax bias against equity investment and promotes a more efficient allocation of capital.” Makes sense, right? Basic economics.

Yet in his brand-new, 2013 budget, Obama calls for taxing dividends as ordinary income, essentially raising the top rate all the way to 39.6 percent. And then when you tack on the 3.8 percentage point Obamacare surtax — and an additional 1.2 percentage point itemized deduction phase-out for high-end taxpayers — the rate rises to 44.6 percent.

So apparently Obama is now in favor of a greater bias against equity investment (and in favor of debt) and promoting less efficient allocation of capital.

Liberals of late have been working round the clock to convince the country that the difference between liberalism and conservatism is that liberals follow the empirical evidence and conservatives mindlessly follow ideology. No one has done more to refute this than Obama himself. It began before he was even elected. In an April 2008 debate with Hillary Clinton, Obama made remarks that instantly became famous. Moderator Charlie Gibson asked Obama if history shows cutting capital gains taxes increases revenues and raising capital gains taxes decreases revenues–and Gibson read Obama the history of raising and cutting capital gains taxes to demonstrate this was so–would he still want to raise capital gains taxes?

“Well, Charlie, what I’ve said is that I would look at raising the capital gains tax for purposes of fairness,” Obama answered. That is, not only does the evidence against his plan not deter him from instituting it, but the facts were never even a part of the calculation. He was not concerned with economics or history; ideology was his only consideration.

As Pethokoukis shows, nothing has changed on that front. Obama himself refuted the economics behind his budget. He has identified the facts, stated them, and then ostentatiously ignored them in favor of ideology. No wonder the Democrats were afraid to bring the president’s budget up for a vote, and it was the GOP immediately promising to bring it to the floor. When the irrationality of your proposals embarrasses Harry Reid, you’re not doing your party any favors.

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Audacious Lie v. the Too-Clever-by-Half Lie

New White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew– who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under both Presidents Clinton and Obama – made statements yesterday that were flat out false and (more problematically) ones he had to know were false.

To be specific: On CNN yesterday, Lew was asked about the fact that Majority Leader Harry Reid said he does not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. In response, the White House chief of staff said this: “Well, let’s be clear. What Senator Reid is talking about is a fairly narrow point. In order for the Senate to do its annual work on appropriation bills, they need to pass a certain piece of legislation which sets a limit. They did that last year. That’s what he’s talking about. He’s not saying that they shouldn’t pass a budget. But we also need to be honest. You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support.” Lew added, “Unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality that that could be a challenge.”

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New White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew– who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under both Presidents Clinton and Obama – made statements yesterday that were flat out false and (more problematically) ones he had to know were false.

To be specific: On CNN yesterday, Lew was asked about the fact that Majority Leader Harry Reid said he does not need to bring a budget to the floor this year. In response, the White House chief of staff said this: “Well, let’s be clear. What Senator Reid is talking about is a fairly narrow point. In order for the Senate to do its annual work on appropriation bills, they need to pass a certain piece of legislation which sets a limit. They did that last year. That’s what he’s talking about. He’s not saying that they shouldn’t pass a budget. But we also need to be honest. You can’t pass a budget in the Senate of the United States without 60 votes, and you can’t get 60 votes without bipartisan support.” Lew added, “Unless Republicans are willing to work with Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid is not going to be able to get a budget passed. And I think he was reflecting the reality that that could be a challenge.”

Everyone from ABC’s Jake Tapper to the Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler have pointed out this is simply false; that a budget requires a simple majority, not 60 votes in the Senate, to pass. And Kessler added this observation: “We might be tempted to think Lew misspoke, except that he said virtually the same thing, on two different shows, when he was specifically asked about the failure of Senate Democrats to pass a budget resolution… the former budget director twice chose to use highly misleading language that blamed Republicans for the failure of the Democratic leadership.”

Lew’s statement was so transparently untrue that the best the White House could offer up as an explanation to Tapper was “the chief of staff was clearly referencing the general gridlock in Congress that makes accomplishing even the most basic tasks nearly impossible given the Senate Republicans’ insistence on blocking an up or down vote on nearly every issue.”

Except that Lew was clearly not referencing general gridlock; he was making a specific, false claim which he repeated and has yet to back away from. In Washington, what Lew said is known as spin. In the rest of America, it is known as deception, mendacity, and dishonesty. Having worked for Bill Clinton, one might think Lew would have learned to dissemble with some flair, some skill, and some panache (e.g., “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”) Perhaps in the Obama administration, people like Lew prefer the audacious lie to the too-clever-by-half one.

 

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Obama’s Budget a “Re-election Plan”

President Obama released his annual budget today, and it’s already being blasted by the GOP as chock full of gimmicks and faulty accounting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called the plan “one of the most spectacular fiscal cover-ups in American history.”

According to the Republicans on the committee, it includes $1.9 trillion in new taxes, adds $11 trillion to the debt, and includes a net increase of spending over the current projections. It also falsely claims to cut the debt by $4 trillion but only reduces it by $273 billion, say Republicans:

  • It does not count the cost of replacing the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) required under current law. This is plainly true because the president eliminates the reductions required by the law that he signed and replaces it with tax increases. Then he fails to score the cost of repeal, a monumental deception.
  • It counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan—all of which is borrowed—as $1 trillion in spending reduction; and
  • It buries the $522 billion cost of freezing the Medicare physician update in the baseline, without identifying any source of funds to pay for it.
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President Obama released his annual budget today, and it’s already being blasted by the GOP as chock full of gimmicks and faulty accounting. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, called the plan “one of the most spectacular fiscal cover-ups in American history.”

According to the Republicans on the committee, it includes $1.9 trillion in new taxes, adds $11 trillion to the debt, and includes a net increase of spending over the current projections. It also falsely claims to cut the debt by $4 trillion but only reduces it by $273 billion, say Republicans:

  • It does not count the cost of replacing the $1.2 trillion sequester (spending reduction plus interest savings) required under current law. This is plainly true because the president eliminates the reductions required by the law that he signed and replaces it with tax increases. Then he fails to score the cost of repeal, a monumental deception.
  • It counts the inevitable winding down of the war costs in Afghanistan—all of which is borrowed—as $1 trillion in spending reduction; and
  • It buries the $522 billion cost of freezing the Medicare physician update in the baseline, without identifying any source of funds to pay for it.

On a conference call today, House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan slammed the president’s plan as a purely political move that does nothing to address the country’s fiscal problems. “This is not a fiscal plan to save America from a debt crisis,” said Ryan. “It’s a political plan for the president’s re-election.”

According to Ryan, the plan will lead America to the point of painful forced austerity. Sessions, who was also on the call, said the idea that “next year the United States could be like Greece” may not be so far off.

Ryan promised that House Republicans will address the debt crisis in their budget plan, and said they will present the public with a clear choice between congressional Republicans and the Obama administration.

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