Budget Fuss

President Barack Obama at last presented his budget proposal on Wednesday, two months after the legally mandated deadline and late enough for the press to declare it “long-awaited,” and it proves an interesting document. It’s probably irrelevant, as none of Obama’s previous budget proposals have ever gained so much as single vote in Congress and this one looks likely to fare even worse, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
In its totality the budget proposal is typical of all of Obama’s past political efforts, with big tax hikes imposed mainly on the wealthy and some cuts taken from defense while increasing spending elsewhere, with no end to the massive amounts of the red ink in sight, but buried deep within are a few ideas that are pleasantly surprising, such as asking federal employees to contribute more to their pensions and health care as well as a sort of jargon-laden acknowledgement that some sort of entitlement reform is ultimately necessary. None of it comes close enough to fixing the nation’s soon-to-be-calamitous fiscal condition to win any the vote of any real Republican, but it’s more than enough than to infuriate the more noisome elements of Obama’s Democratic base, and sufficient for the president’s more ardent admirers in the press to deem it part of his “charm offense” and a move toward an admirably more pragmatic and less political approach.
Those pressmen are probably over-doing it a bit, as Obama is still insistent on tax hikes and deficit spending that are calculatedly unacceptable to the Republicans, and his tone when announcing the plan was still full of partisan punchiness. After hilariously arguing that his massive tax hikes are “a fiscally responsible blueprint for middle-class jobs and growth,” Obama went on to blame his opposition for the supposed catastrophes of the “sequester” budgets cuts that were originally suggested by his staff. He even kept a straight face as he claimed that the currently robust recovery will continue “as long as Washington doesn’t get in the way.” Any real Republican believes that Obama’s tax hikes and deficit spending on ever-expanding regulations are precisely what’s getting in the way of a recovery more robust than the current 0.4 percent growth rate, of course, but Obama clearly remains uninterested in such crazy talk.
Such rhetorical red meat won’t satisfy the true believers in Obama’s party, however, given the heresies he has laid out in the budget proposal. Asking government workers to pay toward their pensions and health care at something approaching the rate of a private sector employee made Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the left’s most vilified figures in public life, and any attempt to prevent the imminent demise of any entitlement program is somehow regarded as a blasphemy against Franklin Roosevelt. Even such “baby steps,” as the venerable right-wing National Review approvingly dubs it, are enough to create a rift within his party and opening for the Republicans.
Obama has merely proposed an accounting change in the way Social Security benefits are dispersed, dryly dubbed “chained CPI,” but as the ads are already saying on local talk radio that translates to Social Security which will inevitably prove unpopular not only with staunch leftists but also with many older and more-prone-to-vote Americans. Opportunistic Republicans can run on their outraged opposition to throwing the old folks out on the street in the next election cycle, neatly flipping a traditional Democratic theme, while more principled Republicans can run on Rep. Paul Ryan’s House-approved plan that maintains the status quo for the over-55 crowd while offering the next generations more free-market options as an appealing replacement to the entitlement systems, and in either case they could do well.
If Obama is being the shrewd politician that the press portrays, it is hard to see how his plan will benefit his party. Perhaps he’s reacting responsibly to the economic and fiscal realities that he confronts, in his own half-hearted and characteristically partisan and ideological way, but c’mon.

— Bud Norman

Ryan Gives Hope

Vice presidential selections are usually of little interest to us, as the office is typically of such little consequence that even Joe Biden has done only minor damage with it, so we’ve happily refrained from the constant speculation and debate of the past weeks about the possible choices that Mitt Romney might make. Now that Romney has chosen Rep. Paul Ryan, though, we must say that we’re just pleased as punch.

There is no one currently active in American politics that we hold in higher regard than Ryan. He has the clarity of vision to see the economic calamity the lies at the end of our fiscal path, the broad imagination and hard-earned understanding of budgetary details needed to devise a workable solution, and most importantly — and most rare — he has the courage to confront his countrymen with harsh realities and offer his plan despite the fury he knew it would provoke. By selecting Ryan, Romney has demonstrated that he also understands the overriding issue of this election and is also bold enough to confront it.

The choice is not without risk, of course. Human nature is such that most people are disinclined to hear the kind of hard truths that Ryan proclaims, and millions of Americans will no doubt prefer the reassuring fairy tales of never ending and ever expanding entitlements that the president has so successfully peddled for the past four years. The complexities of baseline budgeting and other arcane tricks of the politician’s trade will permit Ryan’s opponents to convincingly lie about the prudent and necessary spending he has proposed, and when compared to the opposition’s false promises of government largesse at somebody else’s expense the Ryan plan will seem a most bitter medicine.

Still, the risk is justified by the possible benefits. The inevitable attacks on Ryan will only serve to focus attention on the issue of the government’s looming insolvency and the Democratic ticket’s conspicuous lack of a plan to prevent it, and Ryan is uniquely qualified to win that debate. Although his speeches rarely reach the level of rhetorical loftiness that characterize the president’s orations, Ryan’s style is grounded in hard facts, clear logic and plain logic. His fans still recall how Ryan left Obama speechless and seething during the health care debate, and the upcoming vice presidential debate against Biden promises to be the most fun Republicans have had in many years.

Critics will quibble that Ryan doesn’t have the ethnic appeal of a Sen. Marco Rubio, who would have also been fine choice, or isn’t as likely deliver an important number of electoral as Ohio’s Sen. Rob Portman would have been, and he was good, too, but these are mere quibbles. Having a man of Ryan’s stature on the ticket is a good thing.

— Bud Norman