The Magazine

Out of Balance

Obama’s deceptive budget.

Apr 29, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 31 • By JAY COST
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From this perspective, the whole concept of “balance” appears to be little more than a poll-tested phrase designed to take advantage of widespread ignorance of our problem. Average people who know little about why Uncle Sam’s books are out of whack react positively when pollsters introduce the idea of “balance”—and President Obama proceeds to claim the middle ground, even though his proposals leave our big problem unaddressed. 

In reality, our long-term debt crisis is as straightforward as it is scary. America has two options: first, retain health entitlements with little change and adopt a regime of ever-rising taxes, fundamentally altering the political economy of the last 60 years; or, second, reform health entitlements so that current tax levels can be sustained and deficits controlled. Mere cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates don’t work. Real reform would alter the economic and political incentives in Medicare to drive down costs without sacrificing quality of care. 

Republicans urge the second path. The Ryan plan would transform Medicare from a fee-for-service system into a modern premium-support program. Barack Obama and the Democratic party have countered with nothing of substance. The president’s FY 2014 budget does not offer reform, nor does it call for the substantially higher taxes needed to pay for the programs as they are. Instead, it tries to mask the problem. 

This might be politically “balanced,” but as policy it is the height of irresponsibility, and conservatives can surely say so more forcefully. The only way the long-term budget dilemma will ever be solved is for the American people to recognize the scope of the problem and give their representatives the political space to do what is necessary to secure the country’s future. 

Jay Cost is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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