Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Fiscal Irresponsibility Day

Fiscal Irresponsibility Day:
It's the deficit-reduction package that
doesn't reduce the deficit
. It's the debt-ceiling deal that

doesn't touch the debt ceiling
(and doesn't cut debt). It's the
long-term entitlement negotiation that—after nearly
three years of wheedling
—does not delay, let alone stave off, a

Baby Boomer retirement bomb
currently on pace to swallow
half of federal outlays by 2030
.
Say this for the
fiscal cliff-avoidance bill
that passed on New Year's Day—it is
a near-perfect expression of Washington's grotesque devolution
since Bill Clinton left office. Not only have a succession of
Republican and Democratic presidents and congresses combined to
jack up spending from $1.8 trillion in Clinton's last year (a bit
more than $2.3 trillion in today's dollars) to a baseline level of
$3.6 trillion and above, but the process for arriving at these
hideous figures has degenerated into a series of endless,
man-made, deadline negotiations
in lieu of actual
budgeting.
If you squint hard enough you can see some comparative upside to
this circus freakshow—it
could have been worse
, and maybe (as my colleague Nick
Gillespie
suggested
this morning) "the government has effectively kicked
the can so far down the road that they've run out of road."
But that's the same claim that was being made three years
ago...by President Barack Obama.
"What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now
at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any
further," Obama
told
The Washington Post in January 2009, shortly
before inauguration. "We have to signal seriousness in this by
making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not
someone else's."
It's hard to remember now, but one of the president's biggest
and most effective selling propositions in 2008 was that
he and the world-weary Democratic majority
would
finally bring some adult supervision
to a Republican-led
budgetary process that took to heart then-Vice President Dick
Cheney's maxim that "deficits don't matter." "We will maintain
fiscal responsibility, so that we do not mortgage our children's
future on a mountain of debt," the 2008
Democratic Party Platform
promised. The president's first
budget was actually titled
A New Era of Fiscal Responsibility
.
Instead of
any of that
, Obama's Washington no longer does budgets, period,
and can-kicking is on pace to replace baseball as our official
National Pastime by the end of FY 2013. Consider these upcoming
manufactured deadlines:
* February 28: Treasury Secretary Timothy
Geithner's
current estimate
for when the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling will
run out.
* March 1: When the "sequestration cuts," which
disproportionately impact Republican-favored defense spending, will
once again theoretically materialize unless negotiators come up
with some new dodge.
* September 1: When the dreaded "milk
cliff"—i.e., the scheduled but not-seriously-contemplated removal
of wasteful government subsidies for milk producers—is
back again to haunt us
.
* January 1, 2014: What, you think we won't be
doing this again next year? Read this
summary of the bill
: "The legislation would provide for an
extension through 2013 of over 50 provisions of tax law known as
tax extenders." In plain English, these are year-to-year special
tax exemptions and subsidies for various well-connected groups. As
the summary points out, "The legislation would allow increased tax
rates for many small businesses, while providing some large
corporations with tax breaks through the 'extenders' package.
These include tax breaks for wind energy, motorsports racing
tracks, film and television productions, and cellulosic biofuels
production."
* January 1, 2018: There are "stimulus
extenders" in the bill as well, adding another five years each to
various American Opportunity Tax Credits, Earned Income Tax
Credits, and so on. Estimated price tag: $134 billion.
So forget those quaint hangovers, televised parades, and college
football games: New Year's Day is now and forever going to be
Fiscal Irresponsibility Day, where politicians who claim poverty
will throw last-minute money at
NASCAR and Goldman Sachs
in the name of one day thinking about
forming a commission to ponder cutting the growth of entitlement
programs and military spending.
It's revolting, it's discretionary, and it's our future, unless
and until we start electing officials who are serious about cutting
the size of government.