Last Modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 5:50 PM
President Obama’s State of the Union speech made Page 1 headlines across the nation Wednesday. However, it was a rare headline on Page B8 of our newspaper that caught my attention. It said, “January surplus shrinks 2013 U.S. budget deficit.”
Surplus is a word you don’t see often these days when it comes to government budgets. Unfortunately, the good news doesn’t dim the fact the federal government is still spending billions more most months than it is receiving in revenues. Even with that $2.9 billion surplus in January, the deficit for the first four months of the 2013 budget year has climbed to $290.4 billion. The deficit at year’s end is expected to reach $845 billion.
The federal government hasn’t had an annual deficit below $1 trillion since 2008, and that is why the country’s national debt is near $17 trillion. When annual expenses exceed revenues, the excess has to be borrowed. And that is why the U.S. is in hock up to its neck.
U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ken., spoke for the tea party after Obama’s speech and offered perhaps the most simple explanation for the country’s financial problems.
“Washington acts in a way that your family never could — they spend money they do not have, they borrow from future generations and then they blame each other for never fixing the problem,” Paul said.
Nowhere is it more obvious that politicians are eternal optimists than when Obama said, “We have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and we can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is strong.” He added that none of his spending proposals would increase the nation’s deficit “by a single dime.”
That is difficult to determine since the president didn’t explain how he would pay for his programs or how much they would cost. He also backed away from an earlier promise to support raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67.
Ron Fournier in National Journal magazine said, “... This about-face is the political equivalent of Obama taking his ball and going home midway through a playground game.”
The president also made it clear in his speech that he isn’t finished taxing the rich. The agreement he made with Republicans that averted a fiscal cliff at the end of 2012 raised taxes on those who earn more than $450,000 per year. He did agree to make modest reforms in Medicare.
“But we can’t ask senior citizens and working families to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while asking nothing more from the wealthiest and most powerful,” he said.
Many were disappointed Obama didn’t delve into the upcoming March 1 sequestration that involves $85 billion in cuts this year to domestic and military programs. Those reductions will total $1.2 trillion over the next decade. Congress set those cuts in motion to force its members to do something about reducing the federal deficit. Now, it appears they will become a reality.
Charlie Cook said in his National Journal column that Democrats and liberals think those budget reductions beat the alternatives that could involve spending cuts in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare programs.
Obama’s agenda also includes legislation dealing with guns, immigration and climate change. Political analysts believe immigration reform may be the only achievable goal among those issues. Republicans have enough votes in the House to hold up higher taxes and gun and climate change legislation. However, they know they have to support immigration reform in order to mend their fences with Hispanics who voted overwhelmingly for the president.
It has been obvious since his re-election that Obama doesn’t plan to negotiate or compromise. He believes Republicans will suffer at the polls if they oppose his programs, and thinks that will help Democrats gain a majority in the GOP-controlled House in the 2014 mid-term elections. However, Republicans don’t seem to be awed by Obama’s boldness since his second term began.
The president took off for a three-state swing in an effort to sell his ideas to the voters. He believes earlier campaign-style trips were effective in getting a fiscal cliff compromise in December. So why not repeat that strategy in an effort to get those who re-elected him to come to his rescue again?
A story in the Washington Post said the White House seems to think the deficit problem is nearly licked, but facts and polls show otherwise. National Journal reports the federal debt is expected to hit 77 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2023.
A Christian Science Monitor/TIPP poll showed that 75 percent of Americans agree the nation’s debt limit needs to be tied to spending cuts, the newspaper said. It added that only 21 percent disagreed. The Gallup organization asked Americans what they thought was the most important problem facing the country, and 21 percent said the economy in general. The federal budget deficit was No. 2 at 20 percent.
Obama doesn’t seem to accept the fact that a government’s debt is no different from an individual’s increasing credit card debt. The higher it gets and the longer a solution is delayed, the more difficult it is to reduce without serious and sometimes crippling spending cuts. The federal government — the president and Congress — passed that point a long time ago.
• • •Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or firstname.lastname@example.org