OTHER VOICES

Obama’s offer to negotiate on federal budget

Posted April 11, 2013, at 4:29 p.m.

Though far from perfect, the budget President Barack Obama released Wednesday represents the best hope for replacing sequestration with a bipartisan deficit-reduction deal before the federal government hits its statutory borrowing limit in late summer — and before Congress gets paralyzed by the politics of the 2014 elections.

Unlike the plan approved by the Republican majority in the House, Obama’s offering does not purport to balance the budget within 10 years without new tax increases. This is good, since the GOP plan would accomplish that feat through excessive domestic-spending cuts falling most heavily on those Americans least able to afford them. Unlike the Senate Democrats’ budget, Obama’s does not pretend that deficits can be meaningfully reduced by soaking the rich while largely avoiding entitlements.

Most important, the president committed himself in writing to more than $100 billion in Social Security spending restraint over the next decade, along with $400 billion in health program reductions. Obama too often casts entitlement reform as a concession to extract Republican assent to higher taxes, rather than a worthy end in itself. This is especially odd regarding his proposed new cost-of-living measurement for Social Security: Obama’s own budget documents say that it’s “more accurate” than the measurement now in use. Isn’t “more accurate” better?

But under the circumstances — which include both a predictable uproar on the Democratic left and the high risk that Republicans will refuse to deal with him — Obama’s position on Social Security amounts to an offer to negotiate, and a politically courageous one at that.

We’re not suggesting that Obama’s plan adequately addresses the country’s long-term fiscal predicament any more than the House or Senate budgets did. Together with already-enacted tax and spending measures, and interest savings, Obama’s budget would bring total deficit reduction to $4.3 trillion on his watch.

More worrying, the president’s plan confirms the federal government’s relative retreat from non-entitlement functions such as defense, health and safety regulation and law enforcement.

In short, neither Obama’s plan nor the GOP’s fully comes to grips with the hard choices facing the country. That task may have to await new leaders.

The Washington Post (April 11)

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