Many Democrats have long advised President Barack Obama not to waste his time trying to compromise with Republicans on a budget. And most of the GOP response to the spending plan the president revealed last week appears to prove them right.
There has been some grudging acknowledgment that Obama put some skin in the game by proposing modest cuts to Medicare and Social Security. But almost in the same breath, key Republicans denigrated the move as not worthy of the tax increases the president seeks in return.
Given recent history, there is little reason to be optimistic that these gambits to begin budget negotiations will be any more successful than the efforts to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration, which kicked in on March 1. Until the administration and its loyal opposition can bridge their philosophical divide over taxes and spending, the country seems destined to bounce from one fiscal crisis to another, while instituting occasional stopgap measures to keep the government funded and most services intact.
The president’s $3.8 trillion budget is a good first step toward a saner way of conducting the country’s business. He would replace the meat cleaver of sequestration with smaller, more targeted cuts. By slicing spending and, yes, increasing some taxes, he expects to reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion over 10 years.
The proposal angering liberals most would change the way the government calculates annual cost-of-living increases in Social Security benefits. “If you want to defend the middle class, you don’t cut Social Security,” protested independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Giving it to Obama from the other side were House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, both of whom accused the president of holding Medicare and Social Security reforms hostage to further tax hikes. “The president’s budget is disingenuous, tossing out a crumb on entitlements,” conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin wrote.
That’s hyperbole. The Obama budget isn’t meant to be the final word. It can and should be adjusted through negotiations, but it is not an unrealistic plan.
Republicans who suggest that it would be better to leave the sequester in place are wrong. The Congressional Budget Office says if sequestration continues, it will cost 750,000 jobs this year. That’s too steep a price for the economy.
Most Americans no longer expect Republicans and Democrats to agree on anything. But they can. Consider the recent movement toward some accord on immigration and gun control.
The budget may be harder, but it doesn’t have to be. Politicians are beginning to ponder the consequences of their intransigence at the polls.