6 Things About Obama’s Budget That Defy Partisanship

On this we can all agree: U.S. leaders aren’t up to the challenges they face.

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the Democratic National Committee's Winter Meeting at the Capitol Hilton February 28, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Ron Fournier
March 4, 2014, 4:46 a.m.

Scores of stor­ies will be writ­ten Tues­day about the gen­er­a­tion­al de­bate over the size and scope of gov­ern­ment — and, yes, the di­vi­sions are deep, as evid­enced by Pres­id­ent Obama’s 2015 budget re­quest to pour more money in­to tra­di­tion­al an­ti­poverty pro­grams that Re­pub­lic­ans con­sider waste­ful, pro-de­pend­ency policy.

Here’s a short­er list of things that most Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans agree upon:

1. The post-in­dus­tri­al eco­nomy and the Great Re­ces­sion have cre­ated dur­able un­em­ploy­ment and so­cial mal­aise, with a grow­ing num­ber of Amer­ic­ans ques­tion­ing wheth­er they and their chil­dren still have the abil­ity to do bet­ter. In their com­pre­hens­ive ana­lys­is of the budget de­bate, Zachary A. Gold­farb and Robert Costa of The Wash­ing­ton Post wrote that both sides “seek to tap in­to power­ful anxi­et­ies about how hard it is for the av­er­age per­son to get ahead in today’s eco­nomy.”

2. While the parties dis­agree strongly on how to broaden the lad­der of suc­cess, both Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats sup­port the Earned In­come Tax Cred­it, a cash bo­nus of sorts for work­ing fam­il­ies. Obama wants to ex­pand eli­gib­il­ity at a cost of $60 bil­lion. House Budget Com­mit­tee Chair­man Paul Ry­an ex­cluded the EITC from his scath­ing re­port on Demo­crat­ic-backed pro­grams that he ar­gues foster de­pend­ency on wel­fare. “The con­sensus among stud­ies on the EITC is that it is an ef­fect­ive tool for en­cour­aging and re­ward­ing work among lower-in­come in­di­vidu­als, par­tic­u­larly single moth­ers,” the re­port says.

3. Re­pub­lic­ans and Demo­crats also fa­vor tax­ing the ac­cu­mu­lated over­seas profits of glob­al cor­por­a­tions and us­ing the money to pay for in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects. Des­pite the con­sensus, such re­forms to the tax code are un­likely to be ad­dressed in an elec­tion year.

4. Obama’s budget re­quest is just two-tenths of a per­cent high­er than his 2014 budget of $1.012 tril­lion be­cause both levels were es­tab­lished in a White House-GOP House budget deal in Janu­ary. More broadly, lead­ers of both parties have cyn­ic­ally agreed to post­pone (at the risk of killing) ne­go­ti­ations to­ward a “grand bar­gain” that would at­tack both the na­tion’s $17.3 tril­lion debt and the an­nu­al de­fi­cit, which will top $500 bil­lion this year and is pro­jec­ted to skyrock­et in the next two or three years as an aging pop­u­la­tion gobbles en­ti­tle­ments. A re­spons­ible long-term plan would re­quire both new rev­en­ue (op­posed by con­ser­vat­ives) and curb­ing en­ti­tle­ments such as Medi­care and So­cial Se­cur­ity (op­posed by lib­er­als).

5. Obama’s budget is dead. It will be re­jec­ted by nar­row-minded con­ser­vat­ive par­tis­ans, just as Ry­an’s ef­forts will be de­nounced by stub­born lib­er­als. Both parties failed to re­cog­nize that ad­apt­ing to a glob­al eco­nomy, a tech­no­lo­gic­al re­volu­tion, and massive so­cial change re­quires in­nov­at­ive — even rad­ic­al — think­ing. Which leads to the sixth item of con­sensus …

6. Not un­like the chal­lenge fa­cing polit­ic­al lead­ers at the turn of the 20th cen­tury, the White House and Con­gress need to find the new for­mula for hasten­ing eco­nom­ic growth while help­ing people ad­just to vast change. On this most Amer­ic­ans agree: Their lead­ers aren’t up to the job.

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