Last week's news was dominated by jabberwocky about President Obama's proposed federal budget for 2013. As usual, a parade of Cabinet officials trooped up to Capitol Hill for hearings in which they dutifully defended the fourth spending blueprint submitted to Congress by the chief executive. For the most part, such hearings are dog-and-pony shows in which Democratic and Republican lawmakers ask predictable questions and the presidential appointees regurgitate talking points prepared for them by White House political maestros. Then everybody goes back to business as usual, which for too long has consisted of finding new ways to spend trillions of the taxpayers' hard-earned dollars.
But when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner appeared before the Senate and House budget committees, he twice departed slightly from the usual script. First, in response to questions from Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Geithner acknowledged the lack of long-term deficit reduction in the Obama budget, saying "even if Congress were to enact this budget, we would still be left with, in the outer decades as millions of Americans retire, what are still unsustainable commitments in Medicare and Medicaid." Then on the House side, in response to budget chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Geithner conceded the same point, but added, "we're not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to that long-term problem. What we do know is we don't like yours."
Geithner's formulation -- we know we can't keep doing what we're doing and we don't have a plan to change, but we sure don't want your plan -- is an apt summary of Obama's overall budget strategy since the beginning of his administration. Recall that no credible plan for reforming Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid was introduced by Obama in his first year. Then in his second year, he ignored the report of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility -- aka Simpson-Bowles -- that he created specifically to recommend a deficit reduction plan "to improve the fiscal situation in the medium term and to achieve fiscal sustainability over the long run."
And after voters returned Republicans to the majority in the House in November 2010, Obama spent 2011 playing political rope-a-dope with House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. Essentially, the GOPers would propose concrete spending cuts, and Obama would come back with demands for higher taxes, over and over again. The fulcrum of the 2011 debate often was the national debt. After a titanic battle, GOPers agree to raise the debt ceiling from $14.3 trillion to $16.4 trillion in 2013.
Obama probably thought that deal saved him from having to repeat the debt fight during his 2012 re-election campaign. But his administration has been spending so much so fast that he's added $132 billion to the debt every month for 14 straight months. That means, according to Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, that the debt ceiling will be reached this September instead of next year. Maybe then voters will decide the time has come to boot out the can-kickers in both parties.