The Spectacle Blog

Meanwhile, Obama Has No Plan for The Debt

By on 8.11.10 | 4:16PM

Now that Paul Ryan has been thoroughly dragged through the mud for trying to propose a solution to the nation's fiscal problems (and Megan McArdle has written the coda for that episode), it's time to examine the Democratic alternatives to the Roadmap. 

Of course, there are none. The closest thing we have to a left-wing Roadmap (that is, a plan that exists and is scored by the Congressional Budget Office) is House minority leader Steny Hoyer's June speech on deficit reduction. During his remarks, Hoyer, being less partisan and more intellectually honest than certain New York Times columnists, acknowledged Ryan's efforts to provide a conservative, spending-only approach to cutting the debt: "...a spending-only plan has been on the table for more than two years. It's Republican Congressman Paul Ryan's Roadmap, and it was originally introduced in May of 2008. Even though I strongly oppose its severe Medicare cuts for seniors, I've praised Congressman Ryan for being the only one in his party to offer a solution equal to the problem."

Hoyer then sketched out the roughest outlines of a more liberal plan, one that includes, on the revenue side, "a serious discussion" about letting all the Bush tax cuts expire. On the spending side, Hoyer recommended lowering the defense budget, and recognized the need to trim entitlements, proposing "a higher retirement age, or one pegged to lifespan; more progressive Social Security and Medicare benefits; and a stronger safety net for the Americans who need it most." In other words, cuts to Social Security and Medicare. 

Now, admitting that the government needs to cut Medicare mere months after your party has rammed through "comprehensive health care reform" does take some boldness. Give Hoyer credit, even though the times call for something a bit more serious than "a serious discussion" on tax hikes.

Crucially, though, the Democrats have control of the presidency and both houses of Congress. You're not seeing fully-scored legislation from any Democrats (though please let me know if I'm missing something). They're going to need to do a little better.

Specifically, President Obama has slightly more of an obligation to address the fiscal problems than does Paul Ryan. And yet Obama's stated plan is...to let the deficit commission come up with a plan. 

In fact, the Obama administration's last budget planned for a fiscal trajectory that is, by the administration's own admission, unsustainable. Here's Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orzsag:

Let's be clear: even with the substantial-and historic-deficit reduction proposed in this year's Budget, we will still face unsustainable medium- and long-term deficits. And the Administration knows that more will need to be done to restore the nation to a fiscally sustainable path.  

That's why the President has called for the creation of a bipartisan Fiscal Commission....

Of course Obama would say, as he does constantly, that he inherited the bulk of the deficits from George W. Bush. He would be right, but that has no bearing on what constitutes a responsible strategy. If the Democrats wanted to undo all of Bush's irresponsible spending, they could use their majorities to get rid of the prescription drug program, pull the troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and let the Bush tax cuts expire. Otherwise, it's on them to find out another way to balance the long term budget. We have a spending-only plan, courtesy of Paul Ryan. Let's hear the revenue-only plan, or at least a compromise.

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