This week, Senate Democrats are set to unveil their first budget proposal in four years. The big question is whether they’re going to get serious in addressing the nation’s debt problem, or if they’ll again obfuscate the issue in hopes of gaining political advantage by attacking the Republican proposal by House Budget Committee Chair Rep. Paul Ryan.
For years, Democrats have been protecting entitlement programs led by Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from any serious reforms while advocating tax hikes on wealthier Americans. The inherent problem with this approach comes down to math. Though Republican budgets have acknowledged that major reforms of Medicare are needed to address the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalance if taxes are to remain at historical levels, Democrats have refused to admit that making their vision of a generous welfare state remotely sustainable would require massive middle class tax hikes.
As the Congressional Budget Office wrote last month, “Under current law, the aging of the population, the rising costs of health care, and the scheduled expansion in federal subsidies for health insurance will substantially boost federal spending on Social Security and the government’s major health care programs, relative to GDP, for the next 10 years and for decades thereafter. Unless the laws governing those programs are changed—or the increased spending is accompanied by corresponding reductions in other spending, sufficiently higher tax revenues, or a combination of the two—debt will rise sharply relative to GDP after 2023.”
On Tuesday, Ryan is scheduled to release a budget that achieves balance over the next decade, something which the Senate Democratic budget is not expected to do. Admittedly, balancing the budget over the next decade is not a total necessity. It would be okay if the Democrats lagged behind Republicans on achieving balance so long as they had some sort of plan to put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path for the long term.
Unfortunately, according to the National Journal, Senate Budget Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray’s budget is “expected to offer only broad outlines of many of the (Democratic) party’s usual talking points.” According to the report, Murray’s budget will raise taxes, call for more economic stimulus spending, largely ignore reforms to entitlements, undo automatic spending cuts (i.e. sequestration) and rely on phony savings such as winding down the war in Afghanistan (as if the nation would otherwise be at full strength in Afghanistan for the next decade).
So, after four years of avoidance, Senate Democrats are finally putting out a document called a “budget.” But it’s unlikely to represent a serious attempt to get the nation’s debt problem under control.