Thursday, January 22, 2009
I keep waiting for that moment when Barack Obama -- President Obama -- tells the American people that there is a price to be paid for the many proposals he has offered. That moment has yet to come.
Obama's inaugural speech did tell America that it is time to set aside childish things, that greatness must be earned, and Obama bristled at the notion that "the next generation must lower its sights." But as usual, he failed to tell voters anything they might not want to hear.
So began the "new era of responsibility." You can counter that most inaugural speeches don't say much. Fair enough. You also could say that the very fact that an African-American became this country's 44th president is moment enough. For the first time, some minority voters felt part of the American family on Inauguration Day. That in itself is moving.
Back to this new era of responsibility. About an hour after the inauguration, I went to the new whitehouse.gov website. Obama's five-point plan to restore fiscal discipline starts with items that already are history -- the bad way.
Reinstate PAYGO rules. Fine, except the new $825 billion stimulus package goes around pay-as-you-go rules. And while the PAYGO rules remain, they're so bendable that Congress bypassed PAYGO for the $810 billion bailout, the Alternative Minimum Tax tweak, the energy bill, the pork-fest farm bill and more.
Reverse tax cuts for the wealthy. Yes, Obama campaigned on a platform of ending Bush tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000, but now his economic team is talking about letting those tax cuts expire in 2010. Don't get me wrong. Obamaland is right to put off raising taxes during a recession. But why is a discarded pledge item No. 2?
Cut pork-barrel spending. OK, credit Obama with instituting a pay freeze for senior White House staff on his first full day in office. A politician, who can't even make symbolic cuts, will never cut any spending. So that was a start, and in keeping with the last two items, Make government spending more accountable and efficient, and End wasteful government spending.
Problem: It's hard to look at an $825 billion stimulus package -- which consists of a $550 spending bill and $275 billion in unfunded tax cuts -- and believe that there will be less pork, more efficiency and less waste.
It's not clear that the package will stimulate the economy. The $168 billion Bush stimulus plan -- that sent rebate checks of $600 to working individuals and $1,200 to couples -- didn't do what it was supposed to do. So the Obama plan looks like burning more money Washington does not have on a plan that may not work.
Only a few months ago, Obama was proposing a $60 billion-stimulus package. But his plan keeps on growing, even though Congress just authorized the release of the second $350 billion of the Bush bailout.
This month, the fiscal watchdog group The Concord Coalition warned that the first-ever annual deficit projected to exceed $1 trillion will hit a post-World-War-II high of 8.3 percent of GDP. And that number doesn't include the proposed stimulus package.
In his inaugural address, Obama referred to the "the winter of our hardship" -- as if these days are among the hardest that an America, which survived the Civil War, two world wars and a depression, has seen. It isn't a winter of hardship when you're throwing around so much money that no one knows when to stop. Although, if Washington keeps opting for the easy choices, while extolling an era of responsibility, it could be a bitter winter of hardship for those left with the tab when there's no running away from the bill.
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