Obama's Fiscal Fakery

How can you pay down the national debt by building it up?

Decrying "a decade of deficits" on Monday, President Obama declared that "my budget lays out a path for how we can pay down these debts." It is hard to see how that can be true, since his plan would add $6.7 trillion to the national debt during the next decade. 

Obama thus begins his fourth year in office the way he began his first, preaching prudence while practicing profligacy. Back then, you may recall, he promised to cut the deficit, at that point estimated to be $1.3 trillion, "at least in half by the end of his first term," as a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget put it in February 2009. 

How did that work out? Obama's first budget projected a deficit of $533 billion for fiscal year 2013. The budget he unveiled this week raises that figure to $901 billion, so he missed his target by about 70 percent. 

What happened? In 2009 Obama had a "strategy for investing in what we need, cutting what we don't, and restoring fiscal discipline." In practice, given the president's broad view of what counts as a necessary investment, that meant spending more while pretending to spend less. This year the deficit is expected to be more than $1.3 trillion, which is higher than it was last year, which was higher than it was the year before. 

Yet Obama is still singing the same tune. While declaring that "the fiscal realities we face require hard choices" and bemoaning "the chronic failure to confront difficult decisions," he says the government must "invest in those things that are absolutely critical to preparing our people and our nation for the economic competition of our time." Apparently those things include not only "education, innovation, and infrastructure" but also such seemingly noncritical programs as the National Endowment for the Arts, which gets a 5 percent boost under his plan. 

Abolishing the NEA, of course, would not yield much savings, since it accounts for only 0.004 percent of federal spending. But the program is symbolically significant, since it is totally unnecessary, and it's not as if the president is above touting tiny spending cuts. His budget plan includes a 205-page volume detailing "210 cuts, consolidations, and savings measures" that together total $24 billion next year, less than 1 percent of federal spending. 

Obama also brags that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will "reduce our budget deficits by more than $200 billion in its first decade," citing a projection by the Congressional Budget Office. That estimate, the CBO warns, is "quite uncertain," hinging on Medicare spending controls that "may be difficult to sustain" and insurance subsidy rates that Congress is apt to raise in response to political pressure. 

Even if the health care law does leave deficits a bit lower than they were otherwise expected to be, that will be thanks to more than $800 billion in new taxes, fees, and penalties it imposes during its first decade. Similarly, the White House claims "more than $4 trillion in balanced deficit reduction" from 2013 through 2022, but that includes nearly $2 trillion in tax hikes (which Obama prefers to call "tax reform"). The administration also counts $1 trillion in reductions from projected spending that were enacted last summer and $848 billion in fictitious savings from war spending that never would have happened. 

At the same time, the administration's figure ignores the hundreds of billions of dollars that will be required to maintain Medicare patients' access to care by preventing doctors from exiting the program because of scheduled rate cuts. Once such "gimmicks" are taken into account, the Republican-controlled House Budget Committee calculates, the $2 trillion in spending reductions claimed by the president shrinks to $413 billion. 

Even then, the president's "savings" do not amount to cuts in overall spending, which would continue to rise every year under his proposal. Although Obama calls his plan "balanced," following it would mean the budget never is. 

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

© Copyright 2012 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • NotSure||

    Only in politics it it possible to get away with so many false predictions and broken promises.

    Imagine for example that a restaurant did the same as your average politician does, promise to bring you a steak in about 10 minutes and then ends up taking 3 hours and bringing you soup instead. It would never be tolerated, yet when it comes to politics people tolerate the biggest lies and and biggest bullshit.

  • dd||

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  • White Indian||

    You're just a sniveling moocher who likes his PRIVate PRIVilege gained from dePRIVation and genocide of Turtle Island.

    Do you have any land TITLE, the primary big-government enTITLEment program?



    The Cult of Cats the [ASPCA] The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty against Animals – The Humane Society – and Feral Cat Society, do not understand the concept of property rights, business concerns and rights, the protection of endangered species, or floral and fauna, these organizations once again place the sub-species of [CATS] above the human species, they are unable to differentiate between a [CAT] as an Outside Pest an undomesticated wild sub-species, and that of an Inside [Cat] as a Pet a domesticated wild sub-species, or a Pet that when in an outside environment as a dog is by its master, must be under the direct control of its master, a cat is a sub-species to that of the human species it is a the human is the master and the cat is the sub-species, the cat does not control the human the human must be its master and in total control of that sub-species. Thus it flies in the face of common sense with an a entire Pet and Pet Supply Industry devoted to the care and maintenance of any and all pet sub-species, that this concept eludes that of the The Cult of Cats the [ASPCA] The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty against Animals – The Humane Society – and Feral Cat Society. If the [CAT] sub-species is not under the control of dominate Human Master Species in an outside environment it is no longer a pet but a pest and must be seen for what it is a sub-species pest, and The Republic of California, the County of San Diego, has [1/2M] One – Half Million such pests under the protection of the The Cult of Cats the [ASPCA] The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty against Animals – The Humane Society – and Feral Cat Society, the American – Israeli Military Industrial Complex – [The Empire], it is time to change things.

  • Korean Central News Agency||

    National Meeting Commemorates Kim Jong Il′s Birth Anniversary (Urgent)

    Pyongyang, February 15 (KCNA) -- A national meeting took place in Pyongyang on Wednesday to commemorate the 70th birth anniversary of leader Kim Jong Il.

    Present there was Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the Workers' Party of Korea, state and army. -0-

  • White Indian||

    I miss Kim Jong Il. That man had class and knew how to treat his people.



  • Turtle Island||

    Turtle Island is an all-inclusive, private island with home to only 14 couples at a time. The breathtaking panoramas of the renowned Blue Lagoon and neighboring Yasawa Islands can be seen from your spacious Fijian villa. Gentle winds carry the scent of tropical flowers and the warm, azure waters at our 14 private beaches beckon you to relax. The cuisine, prepared with fresh seafood from local waters and fruits and vegetables grown on the island, is a culinary delight. Turtle Island offers a cultural experience where you embrace as family our gentle, engaging, noble hosts.

  • wulfy||

    fuck off spamcunt

  • Confusius Say||

    Some like pokemon.
    Some like pokewomen.
    All videogame, yes?
    Why talk here?

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    I don't even know who the real trolls are anymore :(

  • o3||

    mostly ill-behaved cats

  • sarcasmic||

    The restaurant can't kill you if you piss them off. Government can.

  • Guido||

    ** rubs fist **

  • sarcasmic||

    Let me rephrase that.

    The restaurant can't legally kill you if you piss them off. Government can.

  • Guido||

    Alrighty, then.

  • Who could have imagined||

    that handing huge amounts of money over to strangers and hoping they do the right thing with it would somehow go wrong?

  • The Question of Auban||

    "Apparently those things include not only "education, innovation, and infrastructure" but also such seemingly noncritical programs as the National Endowment for the Arts, which gets a 5 percent boost under his plan."

    So the he can bribe what has been historically part of the Democratic Base to remain so. Artists have (generally) been to the political left for decades but in this crazy paradigm shifting world we know live in all bets are off. He must try to bribe them to remain part of his base.

  • Leftist Artists||

    What's a little more war, indefinite detention, furtherance of the drug war, and broken promises when he continues to give us money so that we don't have to get a job which requires being successful in order to get paid?

  • Whores||

    Welcome to our world.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Zero-baseline budgeting. We need it now.

  • wareagle||

    won't happen. Neither party is a committed to it. A small number of Repubs in Congress are, but even they are outnumbered by the others in Team Red. It's all a sham, and Obama chugs along confident that enough voters are stupid/uninformed/apathetic to get him re-elected.

  • ||

    "How can you pay down the national debt by building it up?"

    I am sure Tony will prance right in and "show" us how.

  • Dúnadan||

    Shh! You'll wake the baby with all that thinking.

  • o3||

    by threatening to nationalize the international debt, the US would gain enormous leveage over china to allow free-market valuation of its currency. a properly valued yuan would provide instant deficit reduction. >i said threaten...

  • o3||

    derp de derpity derp

  • ||

    by threatening to nationalize the international debt,

    The US would see its borrowing costs skyrocket, destroying the budget, the economy, and ultimately the dollar.

  • ||

    And the centeral bankers would scream "checkmate"

  • Bee Tagger||

    If we were in a hypothetical world where this government spending stimulated the economy and we saw incredible growth, when would the time come that anyone would be in favor of pulling back and addressing the debt? Why change what's working, in that scenario? The reality is that if this endless deficit and debt spending were to work, then we would never effort to eliminate the debt. Either they know this isn't going to work and they just want to get theirs (and funnel to their friends) while they can or they think it might work and never intend on addressing the debt.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    He'll just go into his usual tax-hiking/grandma's-gonna-starve schtick.

  • ||

    $95,129 per second! That's all the poor government is allowed to take from us now!

    How can you libertards expect the government to get by on such a scarecrow's breakfast?

  • Tony||


  • Dúnadan||

    Want to make government accountable? Abolish withholding. Make it so everybody has to write out their own tax forms and write their own checks. Can you imagine the tax revolt?

  • Rich||

    Yep. And hold national elections on 16 April.

  • ||


  • rather fart in a jar||

    If everyone could just follow the fart in a jar lifestyle, we'd all be better off.

  • Masturbatin' Pete||

    What does that entail?

  • rectal||

    Farting in jars silly!

  • Pez||

    What's that? Stockpiling gaseous butt emissions in the pantry alongside the canned peaches. Is this some kind of alternative energy idea?

  • ||

    His unwillingness to count the "doc fix" in the projected spending is a giveaway. Everyone knows the money will be spent, but the official projections pretend that it won't. If you're not willing to do that then we can't trust anything else in your budget projections, and are justified in assuming that it's entirely composed of accounting gimmicks.

  • Dúnadan||

    Silly me, I thought the giveaway was his lips were moving!

  • JOhnny MAckson||

    Wednesday is off to a fantastic start. Anybody miss this guy? Sweet moves!


  • ||

    "How can you pay down the national debt by building it up?"
    You fucking can't. Team blue's Achilles' tendon is math.

    Addition. How does that work?

  • Team Blue||

    99% v 1%

    how's our math now einstein?

  • ||

    Not too good. Why? A few more OWS rallies and you will be about as popular as dandruff

  • Leon the Killer Panetta||

    The same way you achieve peace by endless violent military expansionism.....

  • sarcasmic||

    No worries.
    Just inflate the currency and the debt will be meaningless.

    The dollar is worth perhaps 2% of what it was worth when the Fed was created.

    Increase the money supply so that a dollar is worth 2% of its current value and a trillion dollars will be a pittance.

  • Butts Wagner||

    By Jove! I think he's got it!

  • ||

    Just inflate the currency and the debt will be meaningless.

    As inflation goes up, interest goes up.

    As interest goes up, the cost of rolling over debt goes up and the cost of new debt goes up.

    You'll might gain some ground on your longer-term debt until it rolls over, then you're back where you started, with higher borrowing costs across the board and a wrecked budget and economy.

  • Sevo||

    Doggone it! Where's that money orchard? We need to start the harvest.

  • ||

    yes, but all those extra zeros make it sexy. Soon with enough help from the messiah in chief even someone working as a fry cook can be earning 7 figures.

  • Al Literation||

    preaching prudence while practicing profligacy

    Prior planning prevents piss poor performance.

  • Rich||

    Just wondering, Jacob: Has anyone from Obama's "Truth Squad" contacted you about this post?

  • Masturbatin' Pete||


  • Black drones||

    stand-by rich

  • shrike||

    Back then, you may recall, he promised to cut the deficit, at that point estimated to be $1.3 trillion, "at least in half by the end of his first term," as a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget put it in February 2009.

    John and RC tell me the deficit was just $400 billion then. (the CBO number was $1.3 trillion before Bush left)

    Of course, that does not get Obama off the hook since his new budget does not cut that number in half.

  • Truth Squad||

    It's not yet the end of His first term.

  • ||

    Even if we take your numbers at face value, he failed, shrike.

  • Leon the Killer Panetta||

    Defense industry stocks NOW, shreekie, load up the truck!

  • Ron, Paul||

    Vote Ron, Paul 2012, muthafuckaz!!!!!

  • MNG||

    Ok, so even I laughed at Obama "decrying deficets." That's like Newt opining on the sanctity of marriage.

  • romulus augustus||

    The Greeks are complaining about the German jackboot on their necks. Re-elect the clown and our children and grandchildren will be complaining about Chinese nuclear-armed jackboots on their necks.

  • Loki||

    Oh I'm sure he could have cut the deficit in half if those damn republicunts and Kochsuckers right wing blah blah blah... had just let him confiscate wealth from rich peopleget the rich 1%ers to pay insanely high taxestheir fair share. It's all their fault don't you know.

    What amazes me about Obams isn't so much the lieing (he's a politician afterall), but the obviousness of it. Yet he seems to think people will still buy his bullshit no matter how brazen he is about it. That said, I have already a couple of Obama 2012 bumper stickers. Some people never learn.

  • ||

    I have been seeing those for months. I always take a good look at the driver so I can understand what a dumb ass looks like. Sadly, they look disappointingly common.

  • ||

    Team blue requires a lobotomy before they ass rape you back into your hovel. Steve Smith will 'back me up' on this.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Look, Biden explained this perfectly when he said we have to spend more money to keep from going bankrupt. These guys are economic geniuses. Why can't you racist troglodytes just get with the program?

  • ||

    No doubt the usual mob of howling economic illiterates will be along spouting their pseudo-Keynesian nonsense about how the government must spend more money to "stimulate" the economy.

    Fine. So why the fuck can't Obama be honest about it? Instead of pretending to deal with the deficit, why can't he just come out and say "...I'm NOT going to address the deficit because we need deficit spending to prime the pump blah blah blah"?

  • wareagle||

    So why the fuck can't Obama be honest about it?
    because if he is, he knows he will lose. Liberals count on a massively uninformed and/or apathetic population for their power. Second, he does not have to be honest because most of the media will not hold him accountable.

  • ||

    It's comments like these that make we wish this site had a Like button... and that I could press it a thousand times.

  • ||

    the statists from Team Red depend on the same thing: ignorance and apathy.

    Was not there a song about this?

  • fish||

    Was not there a song about this?

    Don't know. Don't care.

  • ||

    "You fucked up, you trusted us."

  • wulfy||

    Guy walks into a bar, looks at the cocktail menu and says,

    "I don't see it on here, but can I have a Rampaging Race Hustler Violate My Asshole and Drain My Bank Account?"

    Bartender says,

    "We call that one the Obama Administration here."

    Guy says,

    "OK, how much is it?"

    Bartender says,

    "It's keyed to the $15T debt. $150,000 if you have a job, zero if you don't. Only suckers work nowadays."

    Guy says,

    "OK, if I call my boss and quit, you'll give me free drinks?"

    Bartender says,

    "Yeah, it's reimbursed by the Troubled Drunk Relief Program. All good until the whole motherfucker collapses and your family gets gangraped and eaten by Obama voters."

    Guy says,

    "What the fuck? It's all about the Now anyways."

    This joke was brought to you by The Pessimistic Bastard Society, depressing the fuck out of everyone since 1929.

  • ||

    Try harder, you are far too optimistic.

  • Leon the Killer Panetta||

    Cheer up, you could always enlist in the military.

  • Impulse Fiji||

    Well, it is important that the President does try to balance the budget for a healthy long term economy which means that more Americans will be able to have surplus funds for vacations and other consumer spending.


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