Vote-Buying America to the Brink
A Commentary by Debra J. Saunders
Across the pond, British Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition is calling for 19 percent cuts in government spending. As The New York Times reported, British finance minister George Osborne believes that the cuts will steer the country -- where the deficit runs at about 11.5 percent of total economic output -- away from the "brink" of "economic ruin."
In President Barack Obama's Washington, however, there is a rush to the brink. The U.S. federal deficit represents 10.7 percent of economic output -- compared with 5.4 percent for Germany -- yet there are calls for more needless spending. Last week, on the heels of an announcement that there will be no Social Security cost-of-living adjustment, Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced their support for legislation that promises $250 checks to the country's 54 million seniors -- because there was no cost-of-living increase.
The pretzel logic of Washington always leads to more spending. It starts with a generous formula for granting increases and an economic anomaly. Gas prices had risen to more than $4 per gallon, so in 2008, the Social Security Administration granted recipients an increase of 5.8 percent for 2009. Because gas prices quickly fell, the 2009 cost-of-living adjustment exceeded the real cost-of-living increase for 2009 and 2010. So there were no COLAs for 2010 and now for 2011. Essentially, seniors have enjoyed adjustments of about 2 percent annually over the past three years.
So because seniors got too much money upfront, Obama, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid want to give them more. And that's on top of the $300 checks from the 2008 George W. Bush stimulus package and another $250 from the 2009 Obama stimulus. Obama tried to push through an additional $250 bonanza, but 12 Senate Democrats joined Republicans to block the madness.
And madness it is. Yes, some seniors are struggling, but so are a lot of working families; in some cases, their paychecks have declined in the past two years. These families will be on the hook for the added debt -- some $14 billion -- if Obamaland pulls off this legislation.
Pelosi promised to fund what Dems call "Economic Recovery Payments" in a "fiscally responsible manner." What does that mean?
Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill responded, "While we are still working to finalize this legislation, Republicans are standing by millionaires and billionaires by demanding that the middle class foot the bill for a $700 billion tax cut for the wealthiest few. The contrast could not be greater."
Translation: Don't know, don't care. This is all about buying the votes of seniors by dangling the prospect of a little bonus -- thanks to a vote that Pelosi conveniently postponed until the lame-duck session.
At least Republicans are walking the walk on this one. There are no GOP House co-sponsors of this deficit-boosting scheme. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell seems to recognize this is real money. Spokesman Don Stewart told The Washington Post that $14 billion is "greater than the entire Kentucky state budget."
As for Obama, Pelosi and Reid, they act determined to turn the United States into the United Kingdom -- or perhaps even riot-happy France. Last year's deficit hit $1.3 trillion -- yet they're looking for new excuses to spend more money they don't have.
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