By LESLEY TOTH
On Monday morning, Feb. 13, President Obama sent to Congress his federal budget for fiscal year 2013, a sort of wish list of White House spending priorities. The proposal calls for raising taxes on the wealthy, spending cuts in certain areas of government and increasing the budgets of infrastructure projects and job training programs.
If it miraculously made it through both the House and the Senate, the White House says that the plan would decrease the federal deficit by $4 trillion within the next decade. But the deficit certainly wouldn’t decrease any time soon. The president’s budget leaves the federal government with a shortfall of $901 billion by the end of fiscal year 2013.
Strangely enough, Obama introduced his budget in a speech at the Northern Virginia Community College near Washington, D.C. where thousands of people who will be paying off our debt for decades to come were listening.
The plan unveiled Monday also includes $360 billion in cuts to federal health programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Most of those cuts come from reduced payments to providers, including drug companies. Nothing in the budget speaks to how we can expect to reverse the trend of rising costs of medical care.
Republicans accused the president of failing to do anything meaningful to reduce deficits that could threaten the country with a European-style debt crisis. And I agree — partly. The White House budget does fail miserably at reducing deficits (and therefore only adds to our already ballooning debt). But we are not even in the same ballpark as Greece. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the U.S. public debt will increase to and level off at most 74 percent of GDP. Greece’s debt had totaled 160 percent of its GDP. We would need to engage in another two or three unfunded war campaigns and approve another round of massive tax cuts before we would ever reach that level of debt.
Obama’s budget blueprint revives a litany of prior proposals: allowing tax cuts to expire on couples making more than $250,000 a year; eliminating tax breaks for oil and gas companies and a number of smaller tax and fee increases.
Of course Republicans criticized the tax increases.
Unfortunately, both the president and the Republicans are willing to yet again kick the proverbial can. The projections in Obama’s budget show that he is doing absolutely nothing to restrain the growth in entitlement programs that is expected with the retirement of baby boomers.
Obama’s budget projects that Medicare spending will double during the coming decade from $478 billion this year to almost $1 trillion in 2022. Medicaid, the government health care program for the poor and disabled, would more than double from $255 billion this year to $589 billion by 2022. So while the budget may trim that $4 trillion during the next decade, these programs will continue to consume more and more of the federal coffers.
We need to raise taxes and eliminate breaks to those who hardly need them. But we also need to make serious budget cuts and significant reforms if we ever expect to responsibly pay our bills.
And it needs to be done in a way that is truly a “shared responsibility” (one of the president’s favorite phrases). So far, any talks of reforming Social Security and Medicare promise today’s seniors that they will be held harmless. These promises only ensure more of the same — younger generations will continue to be responsible for mistakes made before they were even born.