Politicians Dodge Deficit Reality, Invite Disaster; Both Parties Back a Budget Bait and Switch
Byline: Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Everyone knows - and the midterm elections were testimony to the fact - that Washington politicians are not great listeners. But sometimes they don't listen even to themselves.
Over the past week, they've been saying two contradictory things and haven't given any indication that they've noticed.
Inspired by proposals from President Obama's debt commission, members of both parties have been effusive about the need to cut the federal budget deficit - and ultimately the national debt - by trillions of dollars. Republicans and Democrats on the 18-member panel voted to trim Social Security, reduce federal spending and raise taxes. Politicians who are not on the commission also vowed to back a similar combination of hard-hitting measures - and soon.
At the same time, members of Congress took a series of votes that go in the opposite direction. They voted to increase the deficit by tens of billions of dollars by extending current tax rates, which are set to rise at the start of next year. They have also agreed with President Obama to prevent other tax increases from taking effect when a wide variety of tax benefits expire and will extend soon-to-end unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. That combination will add hundreds of billions to the deficit next year.
Such silliness brings to mind a bawdy old joke whose punch line is, Who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?
Credulous Washington insiders have chosen to believe the political rhetoric and ignore the facts - but they shouldn't. Talk is cheap. Actions matter. Open your eyes and see.
Here is the situation as it really stands: The debt commission failed to approve its ambitious deficit-reduction plan. It fell short of the 14 votes it needed to force Congress to take up its proposal. The commissioners' brave words - and even their votes - were, in the end, meaningless.
Only what Congress does will make a difference. And with Mr. Obama's blessing, it's well on the way to making the federal deficit much wider than it otherwise would have been. Whatever your view of the wisdom of extending low tax rates, the result of extending them and other breaks - along with the continued funding of unemployment compensation - is to add to the debt problem, not shave it back. …