Yesterday President Obama opened the first meeting of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform by decrying "the norm around Washington...when it comes to our finances": Politicians "tell people want they want to hear instead of what they need to know." For too long, Obama said, "folks in Washington [have] deferred politically difficult decisions and avoided telling hard truths about the nature of the problem." He then proceeded to exemplify this phenomenon:
We've had to take emergency measures to prevent the recession from becoming another depression....But the emergency measures have added about $1 trillion to the deficit over the next 10 years. As a result, even as we take these necessary steps in the short term, we have an obligation to future generations to address our long-term, structural deficits, which threaten to hobble our economy and leave our children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt.
In other words, spend now, save later. Toward that end, Obama's offers a gesture of bad faith:
We've been scouring the budget, line by line, identifying more than $20 billion in savings this year alone.
This year alone! This year, when the federal government will spend something like $3.6 trillion, $20 billion is not even big enough to be a rounding error. If that's all that line-by-line scouring yields, we are well and truly screwed. Speaking of which:
I kept my promise to pass a health reform bill without adding a dime to the deficit. In fact, by attacking waste and fraud and promoting better care, reform is expected to bring down our deficits by more than $1 trillion over the next two decades.
Did anyone tell the president that his health care bill passed, so he can stop lying about its fiscal impact? Perhaps he is prepared to defend the literal truth of this oft-repeated statement: Health care reform will not add a single dime to the deficit; once the implausible savings, hidden costs, and overly optimistic projections are taken into account, it will add many, many dimes.
In any event, Obama inadvertently illustrated the argument for the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform: We can't trust slippery politicians like him to tell us the truth about the nation's finances, but we can trust his hand-picked advisers (because they're former politicians). Assuming that's true, their recommendations still have to be implemented by those mendacious spendthrifts in Congress and the White House. And since accepting the commission's advice is completely optional, they cannot plausibly deflect responsibility by saying their hands were tied. That does not stop Obama from trying:
It's important that we not restrict the review or the recommendations that this commission comes up with in any way. Everything has to be on the table. And I just met briefly with the commission and said the same thing to them. Of course, this means that all of you, our friends in the media, will ask me and others once a week or once a day about what we’re willing to rule out or rule in when it comes to the recommendations of the commission. That's an old Washington game and it's one that has made it all but impossible in the past for people to sit down and have an honest discussion about putting our country on a more secure fiscal footing.
So I want to deliver this message today: We're not playing that game. I'm not going to say what's in. I'm not going to say what's out. I want this commission to be free to do its work.
As Americans for Tax Reform notes, this is Obama's way of pre-emptively renouncing his pledge not to raise taxes on households earning less than $250,000 a year (a pledge he already has broken repeatedly, while refusing to admit it). The president apparently plans to pretend that he had to break his tax pledge because the panel of advisers he appointed suggested that he do so. Yet he insists he wants "an honest discussion about putting our country on a more secure fiscal footing." OK. You go first.