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February 3, 2010
Column #1,484
How To Cut the Deficit
By Mike McManus

President Obama released his disturbing budget proposal that would add a stunning $1.3 TRILLION to the national debt next year on top of this year's $1.6 Trillion.

These figures stagger the mind.  As recently as President Ford's first year in office, the total federal debt was only $500 billion.

Obama says the federal deficit "when I walked in the door" was $1.3 trillion, and he only increased it to $1.4 trillion in 2009 and $1.6 trillion in 2010.

Not true.  The deficit in Bush's last full year was $585 billion.  When America's economy fell apart, he passed TARP in his final months.  However, TARP was really short term loans to stabilize the banking system - not government spending.  Banks have already paid back $500 billion.  Another $200 billion went to AIG and federal mortgage banks that probably won't be repaid.

So Obama really inherited a $785 billion deficit, which he has nearly DOUBLED. And the repaid $500 billion has not reduced the deficit.  Instead the President uses it as a cookie jar to propose some tax cuts for business.

He offered a fig leaf of concern: "Our fiscal situation remains unacceptable."  Yet he is still pushing for a Health Care package costing nearly a trillion over a decade, that doesn't even begin for four years. And he's got a dandy $100 billion "jobs" bill that will leave unemployment at around 10 percent all year.

He proposes a freeze on spending of smaller "discretionary programs" which will only save $35 billion a year, less than 1 percent of the $3.8 trillion budget. What's not being touched are such big items as Defense. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid.  Why?

They are considered untouchable. 

       Republicans love to cut taxes, but support Defense spending, on which Obama proposes a 2 percent hike to $702 billion.  Democrats, who created Medicare and Social Security, love and protect them - and have earned political capital by beating up on Republicans for decades for once opposing these popular programs.

       These are the biggest of 180 "tax expenditures," which are really spending programs run through the tax system.  The mortgage interest tax deduction is a big one and employer-sponsored health insurance is another. Their annual cost?  More than $1.1 trillion a year.

       These programs are on autopilot, and will grow forever if Congress does nothing.  Republicans call any cuts in tax expenditures a "tax increase."

       However, with trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see, we are imposing HUGE burden on our children.  Obama says "It would be a terrible mistake to borrow against our children's future to pay our way today…"  But he adds, "It would be equally wrong to neglect their future by failing to invest in areas that will determine our economic success."

       Nonsense. We will still have a 10 percent jobless rate with that "investment."

       Len Burman, a former top Treasury official, notes that if Obama had applied his "freeze" to tax expenditures for three years starting in 2012, the deficit would be reduced by $3.5 trillion over a decade.

In fact, a step in that direction was taken when  Sens. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Judd Gregg (R-NH) proposed creating a bipartisan commission that would craft fiscal reforms that Congress would have to vote up or down, with no amendments.

For months, Obama took no stand on the issue.

By contrast, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said in May, "We must address the issue of entitlement spending now before it is too late. As I have said many times before, the best way to address the crisis is the Conrad-Gregg proposal, which would provide an expedited pathway for fixing these profound long-term challenges. This plan would force us to get debt and spending under control. It deserves support from both sides of the aisle."

A good guy, right?  NO. 

One week before the vote, the President finally supported Conrad-Gregg, but when the issue came up on the floor of the Senate recently, McConnell cynically voted against it. A half dozen other Republicans who had bravely supported the commission, also ran for the hills, including Sen. John McCain. Had they voted for a bill they argued for, it would not have failed.

My sons and seven grandchildren - deserve a government which does not pile on annual $1.5 trillion dollar debt hikes, on which they will pay an escalating interest rate for scores of years.

As a Washington reporter for nearly five decades, I've never had such bipartisan disgust with our "leaders."

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