President Obama spent much of last year pretending that he had a plan to tackle the nation's long-term debt crisis. He never released an actual plan, but he gave a bunch of speeches pretending that he had. And Obama pushed the idea that he was privately ready to cut a "grand bargain" on the debt were he not thwarted by intransigent Republicans. This was a narrative dutifully reported by the media, despite the lack of any formal plan. Now, the pretending is over.
On Monday, Obama unveiled a budget that added to the debt while using a series of budget gimmicks to claim deficit reduction. And today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner conceded that the administration didn't even attempt to do anything about the nation's long-term debt problem.
Earlier today, he told the Senate Budget Committee that long-term spending would be "unsustainable" even if Obama's budget was fully adopted. Later, in a separate hearing, he explained to House Budget Committee chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that the only intention of the Obama budget was to address deficits in the next decade, not to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path. He also trashed Ryan's budget, which does actually solve the problem, for putting too much of a burden on seniors to pay for health care.
“We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem," Geithner told Ryan. "What we do know is we don’t like yours.”
There you have it. The administration has dropped any pretense. It's more comfortable attacking Ryan's plan than offering an alternate solution.
Geithner tried to downplay the significance of the long-term problem, acting as if the nation can cross that bridge when it comes to it. But as Ryan pointed out, the Treasury Secretary, more than anybody, should recognize how problematic it would be for bond investors to lose faith in America's finances. If they stop buying U.S. bonds, a crisis can hit much sooner than a chart would suggest. Furthermore, virtually every budget expert recognizes that the longer the nation waits to do address its problems, the more drastic the possible solutions have to become.
So, now that the administration itself has acknowledged it has no plan, it's time for the media to follow suit and stop blaming the lack of a debt plan on Republican unwillingness to agree to tax increases.
Video of Geithner's exchange with Ryan below.