A distinguished columnist, editor and foreign correspondent, Wes Pruden has been a leading voice of conservative thought for more than three decades.
Tripping the clumsy Obama three-step
Barack Obama wants everybody to grow up and sit down to devise a sensible Democratic budget. If only. He remembers pumping gas and suggests anybody who doesn't like paying $4 a gallon for gasoline turn in the old guzzler and buy something new.
He must know something about economics, so this is presumably how grown-ups deal with serious things. The budget the Democrats want to sell us has lots of low-hanging fruit and bushels of nuts that nobody around now will have to pay for. Let the grandchildren, who will be taking crash courses to speak Chinese, figure out a way to pass the debt on. What? Us worry?
The "negotiations," such as they are, continue as Mr. Obama and his "adults" refuse to talk seriously about what they know they should be talking about. The president, who scolds and evades responsibility with an unmatched skill, tells the Republicans that the budget should have "gotten done" three months ago. His chutzpah is unmatched, too. Six months ago the Democrats were in charge of making the budget, with margins in both the House and Senate large enough to enact almost anything Mr. Obama had put in front of them. So the dance continues, one step forward and two steps backward and three steps to the side. This is the three-step that would have stumped Fred and Ginger.
The arguments rage over whether a shutdown would most hurt Democrats or Republicans. Mr. Obama clearly thinks his pulpit skills, with connivance from the splintered media, would carry the day. The day of reckoning is at hand, but so is the 2012 election, and even closer. Mr. Obama figures he can shut down the government and, posing as the strong leader, talk everyone into blaming the Republicans. He's playing an old and often effective game, like the mayor who inherits a budget shorn of extravagance and warns that he'll be forced to close the orphanage and throw hungry children in the street.
The negotiators this week are not actually talking about "cuts," but cutting the rate of increase. It's the oldest Washington shell game. The Democrats are readying a campaign barrage of demagoguery, already accusing Rep. Paul Ryan, who introduced the Republican budget this week, of shredding the safety net, starving pensioners and setting the aged and infirm out on an ice floe to freeze if they don't starve first. Mr. Obama and his hacks and acolytes invariably describe the Ryan budget as attempting to cut $6.2 trillion from government spending over the next decade. This sounds draconian enough to close a lot of orphanages. But Mr. Ryan has proposed no such thing. If this is root-canal economics, it might save us from hemorrhoid surgery later.
His budget would direct the government to spend $40 trillion over the next decade instead of the $46 trillion Mr. Obama and the Democrats propose to spend, so the president calls these "cuts." It's the presidential version of the Persian rug merchant scam; he first doubles the price of a carpet and then advertises that for his annual going-out-of-business sale he's cutting the price in half.
Mr. Ryan's budget actually proposes to spend more on health care for the poor and the aged, not less. The $275 billion allocated for Medicaid this year would, under the Ryan formula, grow to $305 billion 10 years hence, and the $563 billion proposed this year for Medicare would rise to $953 billion a decade from now. No one older than 55 would be affected by any of this. If this is codger abuse, bring it on.
Once upon a time a president could take comfort in the prospect that since numbers numb, figures make eyes glaze over and guarantee a public retreat into something light and gay. But no longer. The cold light of dawn, coming up out of China across the bay, frightens the dullest and most unobservant among us. If the Ryan budget does half of what it promises – reducing the federal payroll by 10 percent, reducing corporate welfare, reforming the bloated tax code that is unintelligible to anyone without an advanced degree in accounting, and above all repealing ObamaCare – it might save us from falling into the abyss of forgotten empires. That wouldn't be a bad day's work for anyone, Democrat or Republican.
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