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The morning after unveiling his fiscal 2012 budget, President Barack Obama held a news conference at the White House to discuss and defend a proposal that most folks were already describing as timid.
After listening to an opening statement full of the standard talking points, Chuck Todd of NBC News asked a question that got right to the point:
“Mr. President, everything you’ve talked about — the tax reform, the entitlement reform, the two parties coming together — just happened in December in your fiscal commission,” Todd said. “You had a majority consensus to do all this. It’s now been shelved. ... I guess my question is, What was the point of the fiscal commission?”
That, folks, is a great question. Unfortunately, the president failed to adequately meet the challenge with his response: What the commission proposed, he said, “still provides the framework for a conversation. I mean, part of the challenge here is that this town, let’s face it, you guys are pretty impatient.”
Impatient? No, we were simply taking Obama at his word when he said in his State of the Union that a major step “in winning the future is to make sure we aren’t buried under a mountain of debt.” I, for one, had hoped he would follow his words with action. I had hoped he would build on the work of the fiscal commission and present ideas on entitlement reform. I had hoped he would see the obvious opportunity to put aside the idea of simply freezing spending and lead us out from under our “mountain of debt” with a credible plan for the future.
Instead, we were presented with a budget that increases the debt so much that interest payments alone could equal all nondefense discretionary spending by 2014. We were also given the White House’s new catchphrase, “primary balance,” which means the administration’s goal is to reach a point where we’re only borrowing money to make interest payments on the money we previously borrowed.
With such an underwhelming budget proposal, Obama has created a leadership vacuum. Well, vacuums get filled. And House Republicans are happy to fill this one by offering a credible budget resolution. Those of us in the new GOP majority on the Budget Committee will get to work writing a fiscal blueprint for the coming year that doesn’t ignore the big issues of spending cuts and entitlement reform. Our budget will be full of tough decisions and real-world assumptions. It will, in short, be a serious proposal.
Right now, however, we are focusing on cutting discretionary spending for the final seven months of this budget year, fiscal 2011, which ends Sept. 30. And it’s a little surprising to hear some people call our cuts draconian — and to argue that Republicans are wrong to focus so much attention on a relatively small part of the overall national budget.
The first complaint is the more ridiculous of the two. I don’t know how a person can attack the notion of cutting $100 billion when there’s a $1.65 trillion projected deficit. Certainly, there will be differences of opinion on specifics, but at this point we should all agree that the numbers just don’t add up. Period. That’s math, not politics.
The second complaint is a little more serious, however. We are in fact focusing on a small part of the budget in the continuing resolution, without addressing entitlements today. But if we can’t show that we can bring needed, responsible reforms to federal spending and programs such as the Justice Department’s Weed and Seed Fund (yes, that’s a real program), how will people trust us to reform Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security? Furthermore, it’s more than a little disingenuous to attack our efforts to meet these huge challenges when the only reason we are having the current debate is because the Democratic leaders, when they were in the majority a year ago, refused to write a budget for fiscal 2011.
With a $14 trillion national debt and millions of Americans out of work, Congress faces a clear choice: Balance the budget in this decade, or ensure that our children will inherent an America that is less stable, less free or both. The Budget Committee will make long strides toward balancing the budget and righting our fiscal situation. Once we do, and assuming the Senate shows the same resolve, we will give Obama a second chance to do what he should’ve done in the first place.
Rep. Mick Mulvaney is one of 11 freshman Republicans on the House Budget Committee. He was elected with 55 percent against the committee’s previous chairman, Democrat John Spratt, in South Carolina’s 5th district (North central — Rock Hill).