President Obama’s Deeply Unserious Budget

President Obama has made an art form out of trolling. Nearly every “major” policy announcement the White House has made over the last several years has been little more than a blatant attempt to enflame the GOP’s base, at which point Democrats just sit around and watch marshmallows as conservatives burn with fury.

He did it most recently in the State of the Union, offering up a grab bag of unpaid-for proposals ranging from “free” community college (which was paid for by a since-abandoned plan to tax college savings plans) to an ill-thought-out plan to increase taxes on investment income. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we immediately leapt into the fray, decrying the president’s willingness to tax plans designed to make college more affordable and investments meant to grease the wheels of an expanding economy.

That’s the response the president wanted. That’s the response he got.

Now, President Obama is trolling us again, using his annual budget as a bucket list for government giveaways that sound wonderful to the average person, until they remember that they would have to pay for them. POLITICO’s John Shinkle reports:

President Barack Obama released a $4 trillion budget Monday designed to convince Americans that they can have it all: more tax breaks for the middle class, more spending on government programs, and just enough cuts and tax hikes to keep the nation’s deficits under control.

To pay for it, Obama proposed raising a number of taxes on wealthy taxpayers or businesses — some of them already dismissed as nonstarters by the Republican Congress. They include fees on big banks and taxes on companies that do business overseas — plus spending cuts on health programs and other savings — to cover the costs of all the new initiatives.

Obama isn’t suggesting enough cuts or tax increases to eliminate deficits completely, not to mention the long-term debt. But he’ll make the case to Americans that bringing deficits down to “sustainable” levels — below 3 percent of the nation’s economic output — is good enough to keep the debt manageable, a senior administration official said.

All told, the president wants to add another $2.4 trillion to the annual budget over the next decade paid for, at least somewhat, by $2.1 trillion in tax increase. That equals out to about $8,641 in new taxes, if spread across the 243 million adults in the U.S. and about $17,213 if spread across the 122 million Americans who pay federal income tax. Neither of those is realistic, but it at least gives you some scale to the size of the tax hike the president is proposing.

So what do we get for all that spending (and the attendant taxes)? Well the biggest thing is a soaring national debt. The president’s budget plan would add $8.5 trillion to the debt, which would dramatically push up spending on the interest payments. In year 10 of the budget, interest costs would be the fastest-growing item in the budget, increasing from $229 billion this year to $785 billion in 2025, meaning we would be paying more each year to creditors than we would be spending on national defense, Medicaid, or the combined total of all non-defense discretionary spending.

The plan drew swift reaction from Republican leaders in the legislature.

“Unfortunately, what we saw this morning was another top-down, backward-looking document that caters to powerful political bosses on the left and never balances – ever,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, apparently wondering whatever happened to the president’s promise to introduce a budget that contained “practical, not partisan” ideas.

Speaker Boehner, seeing the humor in the whole situation, said, “It may be Groundhog Day, but the American people can’t afford a repeat of the same old top-down policies of the past.”

Jokes aside, Boehner’s exactly right. We have to break out of this game in which the president offers up a completely ridiculous plan that is built as a messaging tool, not a policy guide, and then Republicans denounce him for it. It’s a storyline that makes for good blog fodder. But if that’s the White House’s metric for success, then the bar has really been lowered.