Andrew Sullivan's thoughts on the Obama Budget

Seems like Andy is not too happy with the President’s proposal. I didn’t see anything obviously wrong with what he said (didn’t give it a thorough reading though) and I respect his work in general; this is not some hack from worldnetdaily


Shrug. Sullivan’s a fiscal conservative. The US isn’t prepared to make real choices about budgetary decisions.

Hint: the first step would have been sunsetting the Bush tax cuts.

I never understood why people want to extend the tax cuts while at the same time screaming to bring down the deficit. How the hell can the government lower the deficit by just slashing the budget (without touching the military, Social Security or MediCare) without increasing revenue (aka taxes)?

So when will the US be ready? If the GOP win in 2012?

It will be ready when both parties get scared that someone can run on it and spoil the election.

What’s needed is massive military slashing- I’m talking 30%+ slashing (and I’m a veteran saying that), means testing Social Security and Medicare (perhaps merge that into a public option health system paid for by taxes), and then on top of that sunset the tax cuts for the rich.

That would never win though.

The GOP’s concern about the deficit appeared mysteriously the moment they left power, and I suspect that it will disappear, just as mysteriously, the moment they regain it again. The only Republican president in the last thirty years that ever made any serious effort at deficit reduction was Bush Sr., and look where it got him. Thrown out on his ass after one term, and practically made a pariah in his own party. The other two Republican presidents of the last thirty years, George W. and Reagan, both increased the deficit by record-breaking amounts. Even now, the GOP members in the House are making only weak, symbolic efforts at lowering the deficit.

I think they mainly see the issue as a tool that they can use to achieve other goals (getting elected, ending programs that they dislike ideologically). They have zero credibility when they claim to value fiscal responsibility and deficit reduction. Their actions, unwaveringly, say otherwise.

A huge majority of people have no idea where all the money goes. Most of the deficit concern on the far right thinks it’s all spent on black people.

Sullivan’s upset that Obama just won’t volunteer to commit political suicide. God, technocrats.

Or where it comes from, based on the current rhetoric. Sometimes it seems that most people believe that the US sells a product that brings in a fixed amount of money, and all we have to do is cut spending to meet that imaginary number. I’ve met very, very few people that aren’t surprised when I break down revenue/spending for them in real numbers.



When I saw that Boehner called for everyone to make sacrifices, I wanted to be able to grab his throat and throttle him, saying that by extending tax cuts to the wealthy, the GOP’s version of “everyone” means only the poor and middle classes.

Truth be told, while I’d not be thrilled to pay more taxes, I’d be willing to take a bigger tax hit by having my middle class tax roll back to previous levels rather than see spending slashed by so much. In the long term, I believe that we’ll be hurting ourselves as a society.

Pretty much.

There are two budget deficit problems: Short/medium term and long term.

The current short/medium term budget deficit is almost entirely the funding:

  • tax shortfalls owing to a weak economy
  • various stimulus programs enacted to help with the weak economy
  • Bush tax cuts.

The first two items aren’t ongoing so there’s nothing to worry about there. The third one is ongoing and it’s a problem. If you eliminated the Bush tax cuts you’d do an enormous amount to bring the budget into balance in the near term.

The long term budget deficit is almost entirely Medicare. not Social Security. Social Security will undergo an increase in payouts as the baby boomers retire, but it’s not an increase that trends upward indefinitely. Medicare’s increasing costs do trend upward indefinitely and that represents the long-term threat to the budget. Of course, Medicare’s costs are trending upward because healthcare costs are trending upward. Fix our healthcare system and you fix Medicare.

So basically to fix our budget you need to do two things:

  • Repeal Bush tax cuts.
  • Healthcare reform.

Gee, that agenda sure sounds familiar…

Oddly, cutting the military isn’t needed. I mean it’s desirable for a variety of reasons (we could redirect that spending to better purposes), but the military isn’t what’s driving our budget off a cliff.

Because people are liars, morons, hypocrites, or lying moronic hypocrites. Duh.

How the hell can the government lower the deficit by just slashing the budget (without touching the military, Social Security or MediCare) without increasing revenue (aka taxes)?

How indeed?

. . . oh, was that not simply rhetorical?

The bottom line is despite the tough rhetoric both parties profess, neither side is really willing to make the tough (read as: politically dangerous) choices necessary to tame the federal budget. Both sides would rather go after the low-hanging fruit which appeals to their constituents, whether it’s the GOP railing against “overpaid” civil servants and foreign aid and NPR while refusing to tackle entitlements & national security; or Dems who think we can fix things if we just soak the rich 10% harder. And as long as some people still mistake cowardice for pragmatism, it isn’t going to get any better.

It should be noted that Reagan actually raised taxes more than once during his two terms: not enough to pay off his & Congress’ deficit spending, but enough to prove he wasn’t completely divorced from financial realities, unlike so many of his cult followers - err, conservative descendants. By kicking the can down the road at least another two years by extending the Bush tax cuts, Obama has actually demonstrated less political courage than Reagan, IMHO.

Obama’s budget is a fantastic comedy.

If I told you in 2006 that the federal government would increase its revenue on average by 4.4% a year for the next 9 years, would you believe me?
Because that’s what 3.583 trillion in 2015 represents.
Not that I don’t think this is optimistic, but taking the year where the federal revenues the lowest they’ve been in I-don’t-know-how-long might not give an accurate picture.

The 2015 projection also assumes an elimination of the Bush tax cuts. That’s a good chunk of your revenue right there.

Well, a quick poke of the calculator shows the numbers represent growth of approximately 21% first year, followed by 14%, 10%, and 7%, FWIW.

I think your assessment of “cowardice vs. pragmatism” is a bit silly. More to the point: you’re not being realistic about the actual choices.

Kevin Drum:

Our budget deficit has skyrocketed over the past three years because of an unprecedented economic crisis. It will shrink as the economy starts to grow again, and it can be brought down to a nearly reasonable level merely by letting the Bush tax cuts expire. The rest will require changes to Medicare, since that’s the source of nearly all our long-term problems. But last year’s election campaign made it crystal clear that swinging changes to Medicare would be dead on arrival if Obama proposed them now, and deliberately setting forth a proposal doomed to failure would make future action less likely, not more.

President Obama could have included deep cuts to Medicare in his budget (this would be the only way to really cut the deficit). I guess in a sense this would have been “brave,” and presumably would make you and Andrew Sullivan more approving. And while I guess making you guys feel good is nice, it really doesn’t accomplish anything. So what happens after President Obama has made you guys happy?

But what happens after that?

His budget is DOA. The experience during the passage of the ACA makes it clear that the public will not tolerate anyone touching Medicare. The Republicans will run hard against it; without Republican support the budget is DOA (recall they have a majority in the House). Not only that, but he’s probably handed the White House to the GOP in 2012. He’s also probably given them the Senate.

Do you really think a GOP controlled government is going to do anything to address the budget deficit? How’d that go last time?

This is why I find the whole “cowardice” frame to be so frustrating. It ignores reality and instead casts the President as a character in some sort of ridiculous movie, where all he needs to do is be “brave” and then good things will happen. How his “bravery” leads to good things is always left unspecified. This is what is known as magic thinking, and it’s very lazy, intellectually speaking.

Or he could have included cuts to DHS / the DOD. Which would have really cut the deficit.

Not meaningfully. I mean you get a one time cut and that’s nice and everyone feels good about it but it does literally nothing, zip, zero, nada, to address the long-term deficit (which is the real problem).

This is the same issue as healthcare reform: The issue is not the absolute cost of the deficit in dollars this year, the problem is the projected rate of growth of the deficit. One-time cuts do nothing but put off the day of reckoning by a few months.

Here is Ezra Klein with some good stuff. He has a great take on the whole concept of presidential leadership that folks are enamored of.

Wonks – myself included – have a preference for the bold plan, the single solution, the sweeping stroke. Slow and incremental just isn’t how people who care about policy tend to think. They want to solve problems, not make a bit of progress on them. And from that perspective, the budget was a huge disappointment. That’s particularly true when compared to the Fiscal Commission’s report: It took on the military, entitlements and tax expenditures. Love it or hate it, it was, at the least, ambitious. And policy types like ambitious.

But policy types don’t tend to get much done. And although this administration has been enormously frustrating, what with its preference to let Congress take the lead, to draw few lines in the sand and to let the process play itself out, it’s gotten a lot done. Much more than its critics would’ve expected at the beginning of any particular policy campaign the White House has kicked off. “Let’s face it,” Obama said at his news conference Tuesday, "you guys are pretty impatient. If something doesn’t happen today, then the assumption is it’s just not going to happen. Right? I’ve had this conversation for that last two years about every single issue that we worked on, whether it was health care or ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ "

Some bits I don’t get:

In 2011 he’s expecting revenue to increase 21%, which will be entirely on the back of economic recovery rather than taxes.

Then in 2013, revenue only increases 400B from 2012, which is exactly the amount that the tax cuts expiring will restore. So the economy is going to grow 21% this year, and 0% in 2013?