Obama’s Liberal Grab-Bag of a Budget

The New York Time’s headline sums up everything you need to know about President Obama’s latest budget: “Obama’s Budget Is a Populist Wish List and an Election Blueprint.”

And the Times wasn’t alone.

“[T]he plan, with its list of domestic initiatives, will serve as a campaign-ready agenda for Democrats,” writes the Los Angeles Times.

“Every budget is a political budget, and President Obama’s proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2015 is no different,” writes The Atlantic. “But there are two kinds of political budgets: Those that set out a negotiating position, and those that try to establish an electoral posture. This year’s budget is one of the latter.”

“By universal agreement, Obama’s budget is dead on arrival on Capitol Hill – and the White House wasn’t really pretending otherwise,” writes the Washington Post. “Instead of offering a proposal that would be the basis for negotiations with lawmakers, White House officials drafted a document that would do Democrats no harm in the 2014 elections.”

Does this infuriate anyone else? After all, can anyone name another budget – be it a household budget, a business’ budget, or a university budget – that is purposefully unrealistic in an attempt to win some political points? No, because to everyone else budget matters. Similarly, for everyone else, balanced budgets matter.

But as the Atlantic’s David Graham mentioned above, realism isn’t to be expected in presidential budgets. They don’t have the power of the purse, they only have the bully pulpit, so why not use it as a tool to move the needle on the coming negotiation. And perhaps that’s fine. Yet the president couldn’t even muster up that, instead opting to step away from the idea of negotiating at all and using it solely as a political pitch.

That’s why you see any sense of compromise tossed out the window. Even in the few potential areas of agreement—like say, a modest reform to make Social Security more solvent that he included in last year’s budget—Obama has backtracked.

In fact, entitlement reform, which nearly everyone agrees is necessary for the programs to survive, isn’t even mentioned because it’s deemed a political liability for Democrats. As the Washington Post’s editorial board opined:

U.S. government spending is mostly on autopilot. The government is scheduled to lay out $3.8 trillion this fiscal year — 70 percent of which will go to mandatory-spending programs, chiefly Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the federal debt. Mr. Obama’s plan for fiscal 2015 does not change this; it would increase overall spending slightly, paying for it with selected tax increases, while shifting money among priorities here and there. But these tweaks would take place within the same 30 percent of discretionary spending that the current budget contains.

In the place of reform, Obama proposes to spend vast amounts of money on domestic items—like $50 million in research grants to protect bee habitats—that will inevitably be squeezed out of future budgets without entitlement reforms.

Does anyone else not sense the sad irony in that? President Obama apparently doesn’t, if only because he’s too preoccupied by the realization that he’ll be long gone by the time Social Security and Medicare are squeezing the last drops out of their trust funds. In other words, this is a budget that is all about handing out goodies to important constituencies while neglected the changes needed to pay for them.

In essence, it’s fantasy. Or politics, depending on who you ask. But either way it’s sad.

It’s sad because it doesn’t address our problems.

For as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, Obama “opted for the political stunt for a budget that’s more about firing up the base in an election year than about solving the nation’s biggest and most persistent long-term challenges.”

And it’s sad because it completely throws away any bipartisan progress that was made in the last year.

“After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet,” Boehner said in a statement. “Despite signing last year’s bipartisan budget deal — and touting it as an accomplishment — the president now proposes violating that agreement with a spending surge.”

But hey, apparently election-year posturing is all that counts for leadership these days