Democrats Not Serious About Cuts

Published Dec 3, 2012. By Jack Torry.

The look on the face of House Speaker John Boehner told you everything. He was annoyed, and every reporter at Thursday’s news conference could tell.

Boehner had just come from a meeting with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and congressional leaders. With deficits soaring above $1 trillion annually and the nation facing a barrage of tax increases and spending reductions in January, Geithner presented a budget compromise offer so unserious that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., — described by one senior Senate aide as the most humorless man in America — burst out laughing.

Geithner’s offer included $1.6 trillion in higher taxes on the wealthy during the next decade. Then, even as the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects the government adding anywhere from $3 trillion to $9 trillion to the publicly held debt during the next decade, Geithner proposed $400 billion in 10-year savings for Medicare, which provides health coverage for the elderly.

Instead of his customary good-natured bantering with the reporters, Boehner was deadly serious. “ Listen, this is not a game,” he said, adding, “This is a moment for adult leadership.”

Right now, it is clear Boehner, R-West Chester, believes he is one of the last adults in Washington. The day after President Barack Obama was re-elected, Boehner told reporters he would support more tax revenue to the government in return for deep cuts in federal spending. Apparently, the White House and congressional Democrats only heard the first part about tax revenue.

During the past couple of weeks, Democrats have ruled out one spending cut after another. The White House and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reject changing Social Security, claiming that it does not add to the deficit.

Unfortunately, Social Security does add to the deficit. The White House’s own budget shows Social Security running a $48 billion deficit this year. Democrats argue the program maintains a positive cash flow because trust-fund money is invested in Treasury bonds. But as Robert Bixby, executive director of the nonpartisan Concord Coalition points out, the Treasury Department “has to pay those bonds,” adding that “Social Security is paying out more than it’s paying in.” Then Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and a group of Senate Democrats signed a letter to Reid, urging him to oppose any “changes to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security that would cut benefits, shift costs to the states, alter the structure of these critical programs or force vulnerable populations to bear the burden of deficit-reduction efforts.”

Once again, math gets in the way. Without restraints in the growth of the entitlement programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, the government cannot balance its budget without resorting to higher taxes on all Americans. Not just the wealthy. But everybody.

“At the end of the day, the president is not offering anything on the entitlements,” said retiring Rep. Steve LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Township. “It’s just not an honest discussion at this point by Senator Brown and his colleagues. Even if you drink the Kool-Aid and let the Bush tax cuts (for the wealthy) expire, it only gets you $700 billion over 10 years.”

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Obama and congressional Democrats believe they can force Republicans to cave on higher taxes for the wealthy without providing deep spending cuts.

Although LaTourette joked that “our friends in the media would do everything in their power to make certain it was the heartless, insensitive, boorish Republicans who are to blame,” if the economy goes over the fiscal cliff in January, he pointed out that “America is not going to accept” a solution that isn’t bipartisan.

“Nobody got a mandate,” LaTourette said of the November election. Instead, lawmakers and Obama “ got a mandate to work this problem out.”

Jack Torry is chief of the Dispatch Washington bureau.