While not the worst proposal, the budget serves as a political football and shirks the tough decisions staring us in the face.
President Obama’s recent budget is the “numbers” version of his State of the Union speech. It mirrors the speech almost exactly. Of course it is a political budget. What else could anyone possibly have expected? The intent is to emphasize a few key themes, give the president’s general election opponents no handle to grab on to, and to exit stage right as soon as possible. It will be successful in all of these respects.
But it is entirely a placeholder. It moves generally in a direction the vast center of the electorate will view as right — if they care. It has a few interesting details and provides his general election opposition with no new attack points. It is not transformative in any respects. It offers no significant guidance as to how President Obama will conduct his second term. And it won’t be in any serious way the basis for the actual 2013 budget: Congress won’t get its act together to pass a 2013 budget. That would be too much like actually doing its job. So we will have another series of continuing resolutions. Excepting a few ritual attack lines from the left and right, Obama’s budget will quickly disappear from sight, if it hasn’t already. (After all, 24 hours have passed.) I wish the world and this budget were different, but we are where we are.
The print media have obviously seen it as a rationale for restating whatever their editorial positions were already. The Times, predictably, called it a “clear and welcome contrast to the slashing austerity — and protect-the-wealthy priorities.” The Wall Street Journal opens by calling the budget “a brilliant bit of misdirection” and closes by calling President Obama’s fiscal direction as “the worst in modern history.” The Washington Post termed it “a serious, if inadequate, effort to put America on a sustainable path.” If the reception of the budget is utterly predictable, its results will be even more so.