The National Catholic Review

"God is in the details," is one of those strange aphorisms that has longer legs than it should. I do not suspect to find God going through the details of President Obama’s newly minted budget. But, it is clear that what one will find therein is the other half of the title of his book: If his campaign was about hope, this budget is all audacity.

The most outrageous, and slightly duplicitous, pledge is that he will reduce the federal budget deficit by half by the end of his first term. This is possible only because this year’s bailouts and stimulus package raised the current deficit to an unheard of $1.75 trillion dollars. So, if he brings in a 2012 budget with a $500 billion dollar deficit, he will make his pledge. This does not obscure the fact that a $500 billion deficit is enormous. It is like pledging to cut your chocolate intake in half for Lent, but the week before Lent you start eating ten candy bars a day.

The most honest part of the budget is that it includes the funding for the Iraq war which the Bush administration kept off the books. This made the deficit look smaller than it really was but the GOP defended it because emergency appropriations are usually kept off the books. But, there is a difference between a one-time emergency, like the breaking of the levees in New Orleans, and a war that is both on-going and, so far from being an emergency, was a chosen course of action. The funding should have always been on the books. Now it is.

The largest changes are those we can all applaud. The President has put in large sums for health care reform, education and new energy sources. Most of his spending cuts come from reducing the rate of growth in the Pentagon budget. As Congressman Barney Frank pointed out on Hardball last night, paying for a missile defense system to protect the Czech Republic from an attack by Iran may not be the wisest use of funds, not least because we have no idea if the missile defense system will work and, even more, because there are not a lot of geo-strategic scenarios that foresee Iran attacking the Czech Republic. In the Bush years, money was literally thrown at the Pentagon and they had to find things to spend it on. It is better for all of us if that money gets thrown into health care or education.

I am a bit of a hawk, especially when it comes to the Mideast where some of my more dovish friends attend only to the plight of the Palestinians without looking at their politics or history, which do more to explain their plight than any accusation you can hurl at Israel. And, Lord knows, the threat from rogue regimes like Iran and North Korea are real. Still, there are ways to cut defense spending without harming our national security one iota. Outdated weapons systems, designed for the Cold War, are the single worst way to spend money. A weapon has no long-term stimulative effect: You need people to make the thing but it is built to not be used. Build the high-speed rail Gov. Jindal was complaining about and you not only employ workers laying the new tracks, you end with a train that ends at a terminus, creating a concentration of commuters, which will catch the eye of an entrepreneur who wants to sell bagels to them in the morning.

The other most talked-about feature of President Obama’s budget is the ending of the Bush tax cuts. To be clear, these were set to expire anyway, which is how the GOP made it look like they were not budget-busters. There is no economic justification for maintaining them and a strong policy reason for letting them expire as planned. It sends the signal that there are more important things than becoming fabulously wealthy and that there is no national interest in allowing the few to become fabulously wealthy while the poor and middle class find it impossible to afford health care.

I am sure anyone will find something in the budget with which they disagree. And, overall, the numbers are staggering. But, if the investments in health care, energy and education pay off, then we will be able to pay down the debt as we did in the 1990s. President Obama has put the government’s budget on the right track.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 3/2/2009 - 1:13pm
In response to Don's comments on the budget, I would simply state that his faith in the market as a solution to the health care crisis in this country is misplaced. If we have learned anything, it is the following: (a) market forces will always operate to exclude large numbers of people who are in great need of health care, and (b) as soon as healthy people encounter serious illness, the market will find ways to drop them from the system. Traditional insurance models have not worked in the health care system other than for those with the least need for coverage. And in response to Robert's comments, the majority of people lacking health coverage in this country are not illegal immigrants.
Anonymous | 3/1/2009 - 2:41pm
Afine analysis of the Budget. Ron states he disagrees with expenses for healthcare,education and environment. These are precisely the priorities we should be funding. Thanks Mr. President. The statemnt that the free market will solve healthcare expenses is simply nonsense. Bill
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 3:41pm
Rick: Whether the missle system placed in Poland works or not is not the issue. If Russia put a missle system in Mexico and said it was to protect us from a hypothetical missle strike from Brazil, would you believe it? Russia has every reason to think that this is part of a first-strike protection system that is directly aimed at the. If we are so sincere that this is no threat to Russia, we should invite them to participate in the installation and operation of it, otherwise it is the height of hypocrisy and an escalation of the arms race. Moreover, theis "threat" from Iran is illusury. Even if Iran develops a nuclear bomb in the next few years, it will take decades before they can be weaponized, much less put on missles that do not yet exist. Why not work to de-escalate the arms race instead of ramping it up?
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 3:14pm
One reason Health care is expensive is that we have 25 million (actual number unknown) illegal aliens in the U.S. These people obtain health care at hospital emergency rooms then ''stiff'' the hospital. This has caused numerous hospitals to shut or close their emergency rooms. This has resulted in a potential catastrophe in Southern California and else where. Obama's Socialism will come back to bite the people who voted for it. His failure will be manifested in high and long term unemployment, low economic growth, shrinking real wages, lower purchasing power and a lower standard of living for middle an dlow income Americans. America is a quasi-capitalistic country. This law is immutable in our time: You cannot force the producers, then men of the mind to produce, to create to innovate. The makers don't need the takers to survive and prosper. They need us, we don't need them. Who was that John Galt guy anyway?
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 3:09pm
Have you read all 1,000 pages of the budget? Certainly no one in Congress has. It is also rumored that Mr. Obama has not; how could he? On another subject: will there ever be a discussion in this journal in the Jesuit tradition of the continual promotion of the vulgar Vagina Monologues on campuses in the Jesuit tradition?
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 2:49pm
Your article is wrong on so many levels it's difficult to know where to begin! On energy: If wind power and solar power are so needed in the marketplace why can't the private sector make it work? How spending money on energy technologies that have no proven marketability is a good thing escapes me. It seems clear that Mister Obama didn't spend a lot of time on “supply and demand” during his impressive education. On healthcare: It is truly unimaginable that anyone in America really believes that the government can successfully and efficiently manage our healthcare system. These are the same people who run the Post Office that loses billions every year while UPS and FEDEX are some of our most profitable companies in America. These are the same people that run Amtrak which loses billions every year. This is the same government you claim wastes billions of dollars every year on unneeded and outdated weapon systems … but you trust them to do a better job with healthcare … I just don’t get it! On charity: You should be writing about the outrageous proposal of the Obama administration to limit the value of deductions for charitable gifts, which was included in the budget the president presented to Congress. This will devastate Catholic charities! Come on … take off the rose colored glasses and help Catholics see the truth. I can’t imagine anyone in government you could choose that give your arguments less credibility than Barney Frank. This is article is a very weak effort to say the least.
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 10:58am
An excellent summary of the high and not-so-high points of the President's "audacious" budget. Well done!
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 9:27am
Regarding the placement of ten missile defense interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic, the assertion that we don't know ''if it works'' is simply not the case. This technology--hit to kill missile defense--has had 37 successful intercepts in 47 attempts against missiles of all ranges since 2001. The long-range interceptors planned for Europe have had eight successful intercepts in 13 tests. However, only one of the failures involved a ''miss.'' The other four test failures involved the booster rocket and interceptor kill vehicle failing to separate in two tests, and the other two involved the interceptor failing to launch, attributable to software parameters in one test and a failure of silo equipment in the other. Also, contrary to your assertion, the missile defense assets planned for Europe will protect almost all of Europe against an intermediate or longer range missile launched from Iran, and not to defend only the Czech Republic. It would make your opinions more accurate and credible if you would do some research--www.mda.mil website is a good place to start
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 2:16pm
Rick The Website you link to is the US Missile Defense Agency--not necessarily an objective source on this issue. Given the problems with weapons systems of all kinds (things that do not work, incredible cost overuns), I'd feel better if a non-governmental source without an obvious ax to grind was giving this rosy assessment. Or even a government watchdog agency like the GAO. Citing the Missile Defense Agency might be akin to citing the baseball players union on drug testing: they are very much an interested party.
Anonymous | 2/27/2009 - 12:20pm
The Author: Has to be smokings something funny. The largest changes are those we can all applaud. The President has put in large sums for health care reform, education and new energy sources. Would you please explain why we can all applaud what Obama has done? I CAN'T applaud any one of those! Why? Health Care: If the government would get out to the way, market forces would prevail and health care would stabilize. The church, not the government should be in the business of welfare rather than paying off lawsuits for wayward clergy! Clean house there as well. Education: When I look at all of the problems this economy is suffering, I can only find that vertually EVERY person carrying any culpability for the disastrous circumstances we find ourselves in is DEGREED! From the banker to the CEO to you name it! The problem is not education, it is morality. New Energy Sources: Where have you been? The sources are identified but it is the tree huggers and the Educated Gores of this world that won't allow drilling for what we already know is there. Come on . . . use you Education to rebutt the remarks, I'm waiting. Don