The Obama administration did a brave thing, always a refreshing move for any administration. It issued a budget that had some resemblance to reality. That was the good news.
The bad news is that our reality is bleak. The government foresees budget deficits for the next few years. And for the next few years after that. And for decades without number after that.
The projected budget shortfall this year will peak at $1.6 trillion and “fall” next year to $1.3 trillion, or about 9 percent of our gross domestic product.
This, economists say, is sustainable on a short-term basis (we’ve endured deficits like that before, during times of war) but over the long term—absolutely not. You’d like to keep deficits at 3 percent.
According to Obama’s projections, the deficit will approach that percentage in the next 10 years but then, ominously, begin to rise again, threatening to usher in the Chinese Century.
Did I mention that this is an optimistic projection? It envisions a cooperation between Democrats and Republicans that’s as likely as a reunion of the Beatles.
To prove my point, here is Senator Mitch McConnell’s response to the budget: “More spending, more taxes, and more debt.”
(McConnell, the leader of Republicans in the Senate, has become a windup doll. Turn his crank and he shakes his head “no” and says: “More spending, more taxes, and more debt.”)
Just how ungovernable our country has become was illustrated last month, when the Senate tried to set up a bipartisan commission that would propose a plan to deal with the deficit. Congress would be required to vote on the plan without amending it.
It went nowhere. Republicans were afraid the commission would suggest new taxes; Democrats, that pet programs would be cut.
They were both right, of course. Therein lies the heart of the problem: Everyone wants a solution to our problems, but no one wants to pay a price.
For example, pretty much everyone agrees that if Social Security and Medicare costs continue to explode, as they seem likely to do, they will swamp our economy and, indeed, our society. All of our energy (and money) will go toward taking care of old people, none to opening up opportunities for the young to succeed. This is perilously close to the case now.
But let the president suggest reining in Social Security costs and Republicans cry: “He’s balancing the budget on the backs of the elderly.”
Try reducing unnecessary or inefficient treatments and they shout: “Rationing of health care is not the answer.”
And don’t get me started on “death panels.”
What is the Republican answer then? “Malpractice reform.”
Sticking it to lawyers is never a bad idea. But it alone won’t get the job done.
Nobody wants government bailouts of financial institutions, but nobody wants to take responsibility for letting them fail.
Everybody wants job growth, but not at the price of a stimulus package big enough to stimulate job growth.
I don’t blame the politicians as much as you might imagine. They’re just trying to keep their jobs, by hook or by crook. It’s what politicians do.
It’s the American voter who’s to blame for putting this collection of empty suits, yahoos, and tin-foil collectors in office.
The New York Times recently published the results of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press that says something frightening about our political literacy.
It found that only 26 percent of the public realizes that it take 60 votes in the Senate to break a filibuster and that only 32 percent is aware that not a single Republican voted for the recent health care bill.
If you don’t know that, what do you know? How can you form an intelligent opinion on what’s happening in Washington when you don’t know the names of the players or the game they’re playing?
Did I say the situation looked bleak? This makes bleak look like the good old days.