The Truth About Obama, Democrats and Budget Cuts

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With major budget votes set for Tuesday, Senate Democrats spent the weekend dismissing House Republicans' plans to cut the budget as “ideological, extremist, reckless." President Obama advocated “a government that lives within its means,”  but he also charged “there’s nothing responsible about the Republican budget cuts.

Following the same script, news headlines described the House Republicans cuts as "dramatic" and "outrageous."

The magnitude of this year’s deficit might be hard for many to appreciate. But the monthly budget deficit for February of $223 billion is larger than the $160.7 billion deficit for all of 2007, the last time we had a federal budget that was approved when Republicans controlled the House, Senate, and presidency.

Democrats say that they can only come up with one-thirteenth the deficit cuts that the Republicans have put forward – just $4.7 billion, though Obama claims that these cuts meet the Republicans “halfway.” Democrats assert that there is not even enough waste in the federal budget to cut it by two-tenths of one percentage point.

Unfortunately, both parties have their own motives for greatly exaggerating the size of the Republican cuts -- Democrats to protect their supporters from any cuts in the recently increased spending programs and because they want to try to foment a backlash against Republicans. On the other hand, Republicans want to trumpet their accomplishment.

True, a few agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, are facing substantial cuts. Yet, these agencies are also the same ones that benefited most from the stimulus -- Mr. Obama's massive spending increases. The cuts merely represent a return to 2008 funding levels. The EPA's budget grew by nearly 50 percent between 2008 and 2011. Cutting the budget by a third, as the Republicans propose, is being portrayed as drastic, but simply returns spending to its 2008 level. With overall prices rising just 2.3 percent between 2008 and 2011, real spending on the EPA is literally no lower than just a few years ago.

Even Treasury Secretary Geithner conceded that the deficits under Obama's budget plans would be "unsustainable:" "with the president’s plan, even if Congress were to enact it, and even if Congress were to hold to it and reduce those deficits . . ., we would still be left with a very large interest burden and unsustainable obligations over time.”

But the administration Geithner serves appears not to take such warnings seriously. For example, $53 billion in new spending, almost as much as the proposed cuts, is being proposed just for high-speed trains.

Incredibly, the Obama administration doesn’t identify where $650 billion of its $1.1 trillion reduction in the deficit is supposed to come from. But the president doesn’t want to take the heat of identifying specific cuts. Instead the president says that he is depending on Congress to figure out those savings.

An Associated Press "fact check" observed: "Obama offered far more examples of where he would spend than where he would cut, and some of the areas he identified for savings are not certain to yield much if anything."

So much for Obama's "pledge" in February 2009 to cut the deficit in half during his first term. Controlling federal deficits was a constant political touchstone for Mr. Obama when he served as a Senator as well as during his campaign for president. For instance, on the Senate floor March 20, 2006, then-Senator Obama complained:

“The fact that we are here today to debate raising America's debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. It is a sign that the U.S. Government can't pay its own bills. It is a sign that we now depend on ongoing financial assistance from foreign countries to finance our Government's reckless fiscal policies. ... Increasing America's debt weakens us domestically and internationally."

Likewise, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama promised time after time "a net spending cut" to make government smaller than it was then in order to cut the deficit. With Obama projecting that deficits will total over $4.3 trillion during his first three years in office, we are still waiting for him to keep his promise.

With our debt ballooning, findings from a recent Rasmussen poll should come as no surprise: By a 48 to 40 percent margin, Americans believe the country's best days are behind us. Respondents are even clearer on what they think of the ever-expanding government: 67 percent of likely voters said they would prefer "fewer [government] services and lower taxes," while just 23 percent supported "more services and higher taxes."

Mr. Obama recently criticized Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for his proposed spending cuts, saying  "[this] seems like more of an assault" on unions. However, Walker retorted that at least he was keeping his campaign promises: "When your budget is fixed, you can stick your nose in ours. But in the meantime, let us fix our budget the way we said [during the election] we were going to." the Wisconsin governor retorted.

John R. Lott, Jr is a contributor. He is an economist and author of ”More Guns, Less Crime” (University of Chicago Press, 2010).