Less than two months after submitting a detailed budget for the coming five years, President Obama told the nation he really didn’t mean it.
A lot goes into preparing a budget. The Office of Management and Budget has over 500 people. Hundreds more work in the budget departments of individual agencies and departments. All these people are supposed work for almost a year to develop a detailed plan for implementing the President’s vision for the future. Although the Congressional Budget Office and the Budget Committees within each house of Congress do their own analysis, only the President has the resources needed to lay out in detail how much each program and agency should get. For that reason alone, the President’s budget should be an important document.
Yet yesterday, President Obama announced that he really didn’t mean it. Instead of increasing spending this year, he actually wants to begin reducing it. In fact, he wants to cut the deficit by reducing spending by $2 trillion over the next decade, with another $1 trillion in extra taxes. The sudden shift poses a dilemma. First, how seriously can Obama take the exercise of laying out a budget if he is willing to rip it up just two months later? Alternatively, how deep can his commitment to deficit reduction be now if he is just arriving at it after two years of governing over unprecedented deficits. This is not a matter of not wanting to cut spending or raise taxes while the economy is weak. The President had ample opportunity to lead the effort on deficit reduction by proposing legislation now that would start cutting the deficit years from now. He refused.
It is a failure of leadership and it is not going to change now. A recent article in the Washington Post expressed it well: “letting others take the lead on complex problems has become a hallmark of the Obama presidency.” The same article goes on to note that “Democrats briefed on Obama’s speech said its purpose is to seize the initiative from Republicans as Washington turns from a bitter but narrow debate over spending cuts in this year’s budget to the broader matter of how to reduce the size of the government in coming years.” But the President has had many opportunities to take the initiative, two primary ones being his State of the Union address and the budget. He passed. Don’t expect leadership now.