Democrats’ only bud­get plan: Scare se­niors

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Se­nate Democrats were ex­pected to bring up the House Repub­li­cans’ 2012 bud­get plan for a vote last week, but not their own plan, which re­mains un­der lock and key.

It’s not be­cause the Democrats want to be mag­nan­i­mous and give the GOP plan full con­sid­er­a­tion as the ba­sis for ne­go­ti­a­tions on a bi­par­ti­san com­pro­mise. No, they in­tend to dem­a­gogue it to death, fo­cus­ing al­most en­tirely on its pro­vi­sion to slowly re­place Medi­care with a gov­ern­ment-sub­si­dized health care voucher plan for se­niors — a pri­va­ti­za­tion idea Democrats think will prove fa­tal to dozens of vul­ner­a­ble Repub­li­cans in next year’s elec­tions.

But there are other rea­sons why Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Harry Reid will not be of­fer­ing the Democrats’ own bud­get pro­posal. They don’t have one — or, at least, one they want to re­veal to the pub­lic. That’s locked away in Se­nate Bud­get Com­mit­tee Chair­man Kent Con­rad’s safe at a time when Pres­i­dent Obama’s ad­min­is­tra­tion is run­ning a $1.6 tril­lion bud­get deficit, the third in a string of tril­lion-dol­lar deficits that will add more than $10 tril­lion to an al­ready mon­strous $14.3 tril­lion na­tional debt over this decade.

Next to the lack­lus­ter econ­omy and a per­sis­tently high 9 per­cent un­em­ploy­ment rate, run­away spend­ing and debt re­main among the vot­ers’ great­est con­cerns. But the Democrats’ strat­egy right now is not to grab the deficit by the horns and wres­tle it into sub­mis­sion. It is to play po­lit­i­cal games with the is­sue and with the Amer­i­can peo­ple, to help the Democrats win back con­trol of the House and re­build their dwin­dling forces in the Se­nate.

And don’t ex­pect to see the Democrats’ se­cret bud­get any­time soon, if there is one. In- deed, Mr. Reid has told re­porters, “There is no need to have a Demo­cratic bud­get, in my opin­ion. It would be fool­ish for us to do a bud­get at this stage.”

Pre­par­ing an an­nual bud­get blue­print is the No. 1 job of Congress. The 2012 fis­cal year be­gins Oct. 1. Congress has just four months to adopt a bud­get plan and put it into ef­fect through the la­bo­ri­ous ap­pro­pri­a­tions process. The Democrats’ mes­sage: Not to worry. We don’t need a bud­get right now. Let the spend­ing flow.

But if there ever was a time in our his­tory when our gov­ern­ment needed an ironcl ad bud­get to stop run­away spend­ing from push­ing the U.S. econ­omy over the cliff, that time is now.

The Democrats did not pass a bud­get in the last Congress, even when they had huge ma­jori­ties in the House and Se­nate, and they haven’t been able to pro­duce a bud­get plan this year, ei­ther.

Why? In part be­cause of deep brief story ap­peared in The Wash­ing­ton Post last week un­der the head­line “Se­nate Democrats keep bud­get close to the vest.”

Mr. Con­rad’s ex­cuse is that he wants to give a bi­par­ti­san group of sen­a­tors a chance to pro­duce an agree­ment. But Sen. Tom Coburn of Ok­la­homa, a key Repub­li­can bud­get-cut­ter who has earned the nick­name “Dr. No,” has dropped out of the group known as the “Gang of Six” be­cause of its in­abil­ity reach to an agree­ment on get-

The Se­nate Democrats see this as a po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity — not a solemn re­spon­si­bil­ity to “pre­serve and pro­tect” our coun­try at a time of great eco­nomic peril.

di­vi­sions in their ranks over how much to cut spend­ing and whether to cut it all — but also be­cause they think that by play­ing po­lit­i­cal games with the bud­get process, they can make the Repub­li­cans look cruel and heart­less and bol­ster their prospects in next year’s elec­tions.

The story be­hind the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship’s de­ci­sion to duck its re­spon­si­bil­ity to tackle the nation’s fis­cal cri­sis hasn’t re­ceived very much at­ten­tion in the na­tional news me­dia. A ting con­trol of Medi­care’s un­sus­tain­able ris­ing costs.

Mr. Coburn says he is “on sab­bat­i­cal” from the Gang of Six, but he re­mains doubt­ful that any­thing can come from fruit­less ne­go­ti­a­tions over soar­ing en­ti­tle­ments that are go­ing to break the bank when tens of mil­lions of baby boomers sign up for So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care. Mean­time, sep­a­rate ne­go­ti­a­tions are be­ing led by Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Biden over a plan that would re­duce bor­row­ing by $4 tril­lion over 10 years.

But half those sav­ings would come from higher taxes, which would be a non-starter with Repub­li­cans, who have made it clear that higher taxes are off the ta­ble.

Get­ting con­trol of spend­ing and grad­u­ally re­duc­ing bor­row­ing are not in­sol­u­ble prob­lems. They just re­quire po­lit­i­cal will and, most of all, lead­er­ship — which is miss­ing in Wash­ing­ton — from Mr. Obama, who has kept his dis­tance from the battle. The Se­nate Democrats see this as a po­lit­i­cal op­por­tu­nity — not a solemn re­spon­si­bil­ity to “pre­serve and pro­tect” our coun­try at a time of great eco­nomic peril.

Mr. Reid’s at­tempt at po­lit­i­cal games­man­ship in the midst of this emerg­ing fis­cal train wreck is a disgrace. What Amer­ica needs right now is a tough-as­nails bud­get that reins in spend­ing and bor­row­ing and low­ers taxes to boost job cre­ation and much stronger eco­nomic growth.

But as long as Mr. Reid and his gang of big spenders run the Se­nate, we will con­tinue to see a spend­thrift gov­ern­ment that is spi­ral­ing ever deeper into un­fath­omable debt.

Don­ald Lam­bro is a syn­di­cated colum­nist and for­mer chief po­lit­i­cal cor­re­spon­dent for The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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