After two years, the Obama administration may finally acknowledge the 800-pound gorilla in the room — a monstrosity that can no longer be ignored. This afternoon, President Obama will speak to the American people about his plan to cut America’s $14 trillion national debt. The question is whether the Obama administration will take the serious policy steps necessary to curb our fiscal crisis — a crisis that the Congressional Budget Office believes will sink the U.S. economy into an economic abyss by 2037 — or if it will continue the culture of indulgence, preferring to take the easy way out and kick the can down the road for the next generation.
As with other “important” speeches, President Obama will use phrases such as “let me be clear,” and “taking a scalpel to the budget,” when he does not want to offer specifics on what or how much he would cut to bring down our $14 trillion debt. Mr. President, with all due respect, let us be clear: a debt that gargantuan must be cut with a chainsaw, not a scalpel. We’re talking trillions, not billions!
While the president and his party grumbled at cutting $38.5 billion in the 2011 budget compromise (to put this in perspective, in the eight days it took to reach that deal, the national debt increased by $54.1 billion), Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) has offered a budget that would cut $6.2 trillion over the next decade. The introduction of Rep. Ryan’s budget plan, entitled “Path to Prosperity,” is a seminal moment in the debt debate. For the first time in generations, a clear plan has been produced to rein in the debt and reform entitlement spending.
The Obama administration’s own fiscal year 2012 budget, released just two months ago, does not mention any meaningful entitlement reform at all. In fact, at the time, President Obama said that it was not his place to offer a plan to bring down America’s debt, and said, “if you look at the history of how these deals get done, typically it’s not because there’s an Obama plan out there.” That statement crystallizes the lack of fiscal leadership President Obama has displayed during his presidency.
Rep. Paul Ryan has filled the leadership void by stepping up to propose real solutions for our long-term economic problems. For too long, Medicare has not been run in a fiscally responsible way. Medicare is ripe for waste, fraud, and abuse because of its open-ended subsidies. The “Path to Prosperity” will offer healthcare plans to our nation’s seniors that will be tailored to fit their individual needs. This plan would not affect those who are currently on the cusp of retirement, but will save the nation’s treasury trillions of dollars over the long haul.
Rep. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” also takes on the government-sponsored enterprises in the housing market that drove America into a deep recession. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have siphoned off hundreds of billions of dollars from the American taxpayer in bailouts. The “Path to Prosperity” calls for the end of the conservatorship of these two quasi-government behemoths. The federal government should not be in the business of backing risky home loans with taxpayer money. We all witnessed the disastrous consequences of this dangerous policy. Affordable housing should be left to the open market.
Tax reform is also a major part of the “Path to Prosperity.” Congressman Ryan’s budget calls for a simplification of the tax code that will cut out the waste, while also holding corporations accountable. General Electric, whose CEO Jeffrey Immelt serves as chairman of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, did not pay any income taxes last year. That is simply not right for a corporation that size. Americans all across the country sit at the kitchen table every spring and try to figure out how to pay the IRS; General Electric should do the same.
Rep. Ryan’s plan has actual teeth and will help solve our nation’s fiscal crisis, but the ink wasn’t even dry before the Democrats began panning the “Path to Prosperity.” Paul Begala, who served in the Clinton White House, said, “I hope every vulnerable Republican in Congress signs on to the Ryan plan to kill Medicare, because we will beat ’em like a bad piece of meat.” Begala’s quote speaks volumes about the liberal establishment’s thought process: it is all about the immediate goal of winning the next round of elections, instead of making the tough choices to deal with problems that will affect future generations.
It will take a change in the political culture to fix this mess, something Obama and the Democrats don’t appear to have the courage to attempt. A culture of indulgence has led many politicians to look the other way when it comes to fiscal responsibility and our national debt. Our film Generation Zero explains how this selfishness helped lead to our fiscal meltdown. The problem is that liberal Democrats and their affiliated interest groups simply do not want to change the culture that has bankrupted America.
Today, President Obama has a chance to change the culture and become a leader on fiscal responsibility by announcing trillions — not billions — in cuts from our budget. But if he does not comprehensively acknowledge and address the $14 trillion debt gorilla, he will simply keep his place in a long line of politicians who have sold America’s future down the river for short-term political gain. Unfortunately, President Obama’s record suggests he will not rise to the occasion.