My column for The Week ran yesterday afternoon rather than today, as it directly related to the budget proposal offered by Barack Obama and widely panned on Capitol Hill. Given the President’s attempt to provide himself political cover with the deficit commission, one might have expected Obama to propose cuts that at least approached the level of cuts the panel proposed, over $4 trillion in spending for the next decade. Instead, Obama could barely manage less than 30% of those cuts.
The real initiative on the budget crisis has come from the House Republicans, especially the freshman class:
Contrast this with the actions of the freshman class of the House Republican Congress. The GOP’s Midterm-campaign Pledge to America included a promise to cut $100 billion in spending during the 2011 budget cycle, which rested on the presumption that a heavily Democratic Congress and a Democratic President could actually pass a budget. When infighting held up the 2011 budget, House GOP leaders tried to pro-rate the spending cuts into the continuing resolution that would fund the rest of 2011, and came up with a figure of $32 billion, which amounted to less than 1 percent of the projected full year’s budget.
Newly elected Republicans in the House revolted at the shrunken target. Speaker John Boehner lost two floor votes within days of each other, indicating a massive rebellion among the freshman class. The caucus went into emergency meetings and emerged with a much larger figure in hand: $100 billion in seven months of spending, equal to $170 billion in a year. That falls short of the $4 trillion reduction over ten years proposed by the debt commission, but it far outstrips the President’s meager average of $110 billion per year.
Obama’s new budget proposal demonstrates a lack of leadership and initiative. A President looking to lead his nation to firmer fiscal footing would have used the debt commission report as a launching pad for a complete overhaul of the federal government and how it spends money, especially since the creation of the debt commission was intended to provide both the White House and Congress political cover to do just that. Instead, Obama watered down the proposal so much that it barely dents the debt trajectory at all.
It also exposes a boldness deficit. House Republicans managed to find those cuts within five weeks of taking control of Congress, without a debt commission to provide them political cover. Obama got outbid despite taking office over two years ago promising an end to business as usual. The incoming freshman class of the House Republican majority have taken the initiative, seizing the mantle that Obama has abdicated.
Note: the numbers for the budget in this column came from The Hill’s reporting on Sunday evening.
Allahpundit wrote last night that the cuts provided by the House GOP are “cosmetic” and don’t amount to much more than Obama offered, but I’d argue that it misses some important context. First, the House GOP didn’t launch a commission to give them any political cover on this subject. Instead, they took responsibility for their own budgeting process. They also met their pledge target in a seven-month budget rather than a full year.
Second and more importantly, the House GOP didn’t approve a ten-year plan that only averages $110 billion in cuts each full year of the next decade. They have only started with the rump of the FY2011 budget; they have yet to tackle the FY2012 budget, but that process will begin shortly. Paul Ryan assured bloggers and CNN Money in yesterday’s conference call that next year’s budget would have serious entitlement reform as part of the plan. If Ryan and his team fail to propose and pass serious entitlement reform in the House, then we can call these cuts cosmetic, but right now the House only has the CR for the next seven months ahead of it.
Yesterday, I spoke with a few elected officials on Capitol Hill and their staffs, including one of the new freshman GOP class in the House, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee. This was shortly after the White House budget proposal hit Capitol Hill, and Fleischmann was none too happy about it. The taxes that Obama proposed were retreads over the past two years, and Fleischmann says it shows Obama’s true colors — which isn’t the flag of centrism: