I watched what I thought was the State of the Union for 15 minutes on Tuesday before I figured out that it was The Biggest Loser.
At least the contestants on that show make an effort to get rid of some pork. As Ross Douthat points out, there was no such effort at the SOTU — from Democrats or Republicans. President Obama showed no leadership on out-of-control entitlement spending and a $14 trillion national debt. Post-SOTU polls show bumps in public support for the president’s economic plans, but those are due in large part to his lopsided presentation of the facts. That speech was the fiscal equivalent of a phone call from Mel Gibson — completely unglued from reality. And Republicans had the chance to highlight that in their SOTU rebuttal, but blew it completely.
Even as Congress mulls state bailout options, Obama peddled legislation that could exacerbate their debt. Hocking the DREAM Act, a bill meant to legalize the kids of illegal residents, for instance, he claimed that “hundreds of thousands of [undocumented] students” are “excelling” in U.S. schools and deserve permanent conditional citizenship. But he failed to mention the price tag. Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich puts the cost of schooling the kids of illegal immigrants at “hundreds of millions of dollars.” And Pacific Research Institute fellow Lance Izumi puts the statewide cost at close to $10 billion, or 9 percent of California’s annual education budget. The Federation for Immigration Reform claims that public education for illegal residents of another border state, Arizona, costs $800 million annually — or $700 per household. Obama asked Congress to support the DREAM Act. He should have asked the illegal immigrants who are taking advantage of free education to reimburse the public.
Obama was just as nonchalant about federal spending. As support for Obamacare cratered in Politico’s latest poll — 50 percent now hold a negative view of the law — Obama claimed that “non-partisan economists” believe that repealing the healthcare law could add a quarter of a trillion dollars to the deficit. But the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office tells Senator Jeff Sessions that Obamacare could add over $350 billion to the national debt over the next decade. Elsewhere, it reports that repealing Obamacare could save over $500 billion. It also predicts that Obamacare could cost 800,000 jobs in healthcare and related fields. The only doctor who’d support this thing is Seuss. This is a law that is so flawed, remember, that Obama himself called for repealing the provision requiring businesses to file 1099s for all transactions over $600.
The biggest lapse of leadership, though, was the little more than lip service that Obama gave to entitlement reform. There was potential there. Last February, he established a debt commission in part to come up with potential solutions to the mounting cost of entitlement programs, the biggest domestic burdens on the federal budget. Social Security, for instance, cost $700 billion in 2010. And the CBO announced Wednesday that the program will start running annual deficits in FY2011. The total cost of those obligations is now upward of $5 trillion over the next three quarters of a century. Meanwhile, Medicare’s chief actuary told Congress on Wednesday that he expects Medicare costs to increase under Obamacare. That puts the long-term cost of Medicare obligations at more than $34 trillion — three times the cost of Obama’s Hawaiian vacation.
In a report last month, Obama’s debt commission made a series of recommendations including a reduction of the 2-million-person federal workforce, a reduction of tax rates, regular payments on the national debt and an increased retirement age. But none of that made it to the State of the Union. Obama brought up entitlement reform briefly, but promised to fix Social Security without cutting benefits to current or future recipients and without privatizing it. He expects his one major proposed “cut” — a spending freeze on programs that account for less than 12 percent of the federal budget — to save $400 billion over the next decade, enough to cover the interest on the national debt…for 11 months.
Unfortunately, neither of the GOP’s front men on Tuesday bothered to call out Obama on his total abdication of duty. Paul Ryan’s SOTU response never even mentioned Medicare or Social Security. And John Boehner, now apparently obsessed with “changing the tone” in Washington, forewent rebuking the president altogether and instead prattled on to CNN’s Kathleen Parker about the need for an “adult conversation.” The last time Obama got handled this gently he had a diaper on.
I expected a bigger fight.
Dorian Davis is a former MTV HITS star turned Libertarian writer. He’s been published in Business Week, NY Daily News, XY & more. He’s an NYU graduate and National Journalism Center alum. He teaches journalism at Marymount Manhattan College.