Which brings us to the second element of context, Mr. Obama’s 2012 budget proposal. In what was viewed by Democrats as the antidote to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) Roadmap for America, the president laid out a plan which ostensibly cuts deficits by $4 trillion dollars over twelve years. Yet once again, akin to their number-crunching with respect to the just-passed CR for 2011, the CBO revealed that such savings would only amount to $1.7 trillion. This is due to the fact that the president claimed he has already proposed $1.1 trillion dollars in deficit reduction for 2012, while the CBO reports that the budget submitted by Mr. Obama in February increases deficits over ten years to $1.2 trillion. The $2.3 trillion difference between the White House and CBO numbers explains the the lower savings projections.
The CBO also points out the possible error rates in the president’s budget projections increase over time, meaning the last two years of his 12-year budget may be the most erroneous of all. Even more telling is the twelve year period itself. Standard budget projections are made in ten-year cycles, and the president offered no reason for the switch.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the president’s plan, however, was it’s overtly partisan tone. As the Wall Street Journal noted, it was pitched in order to “inoculate the White House from criticism that it is not serious about the fiscal crisis, after ignoring its own deficit commission last year and tossing off a $3.73 trillion budget in February that increased spending amid a record deficit of $1.65 trillion,” and to characterize Mr. Ryan’s plan as creating ”a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.” Mr. Ryan was hardly amused. ”What we heard today was not fiscal leadership from our commander-in-chief. What we heard today was a political broadside from our campaigner-in-chief,” he responded at a press conference. And it was hardly surprising that the president, like so many of his Democrat colleagues, targeted the “rich” for higher taxes, while blaming them for most of the country’s woes.
Another item in the contextual mix is “The Cap Act” sponsored by Bob Corker (R-TN), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a bill aimed at forcing a reduction in spending over 10 years down to 20.6 percent of GDP from its current 25 percent. The bill is viewed as something of a compromise between itself and a Balanced Budget Amendment, which Sen. McCaskill contends will fall short of the necessary 67 Senate votes required for a constitutional amendment. The Cap Act is also seen as a possible vehicle to garner greater support for raising the debt ceiling, the other large item on the upcoming Congressional agenda.
Thus, as reflected by the lopsided votes in both houses of Congress, it became apparent that neither party was overly interested in getting bogged down in what was, by comparison, a relatively minor skirmish relative to the showdowns on the debt ceiling and the 2012 budget. Both are for far, far higher stakes, and both parties are likely to be remembered for their performance in these two battles, long after this one becomes little more than a footnote leading up to the 2012 election.
And even though this budget has just passed, the political maneuvering on the first 800-pound gorilla, a vote on the budget ceiling, has already begun. Despite the fact that the Democratically-controlled Congress and Obama administration were the ones who added $5 trillion dollars to our $14 trillion debt in the last four and two years respectively, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner warned Republicans that they will “own the risk,” of using the ceiling as a means of wringing substantial spending cuts from the 2012 budget. This comes two days after House Speaker Boehner has called raising taxes, an integral part of the second 800-pound gorilla, aka the president’s latest 2012 budget proposal, “unacceptable and a nonstarter.”
Who blinks first? Statistically, Republicans, since they control only the House. Politically? Democrats lost 64 House and six Senate seats in 2010 — the “national conversation” has definitely turned from spending to cutting. The most important consideration for everyone concerned? Correctly assessing the mood of the electorate with respect to the 2012 election.
Arnold Ahlert is a contributing columnist to the conservative website JewishWorldReview.
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