FRUM: Reading between the budget lines

Commentator David Frum.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: The backing and forthing over the federal budget continues apace in Washington. House Republicans have a bill on the floor that'll cut more than $60 billion from everybody's favorite line item -- that'd be domestic discretionary spending -- by the end of September. The White House says flatly the president won't sign it if it ever does get to his desk.

There's a long way to go yet in negotiations, but commentator David Frum says there's something missing from the discussion so far.


David Frum: The president's budget says it will cut $1.1 trillion from the federal budget deficit over the next 10 years. Once upon a time, a trillion dollars was a lot of money. Not any more. That $1 trillion cut over 10 years leaves the president's planned deficit 90 percent intact.

The president's plan is so feeble that you have to believe he has a stronger strategy up his sleeve. And he does. The president's real unconfessed budget plan is to win the 2012 election -- and then allow the Bush tax cuts to expire at the end of 2012.

That's a plan. But it's a bad plan. Why? It's a bad plan from the president's personal point of view because it pushes him to fight the 2012 presidential election on the Walter Mondale platform, "I'll raise your taxes."

It's a bad plan from the national point of view because it confronts the economy with a stark choice: Either massive persisting deficits -- or else close the deficits with big additional taxes on work, saving and investment. And that's atop the additional taxes on work, saving and investment in the health care bill.

What we need instead is a budget that moves to balance by squeezing waste out of Medicare and Medicaid, the biggest pot of money in the budget. We spend 60 percent more per person than anybody else for mediocre results, so there have to be some savings available -- by ratcheting back Social Security for those not in need. By bringing the war in Afghanistan to an early successful close. And by raising revenues from consumption and pollution, not work, saving and investment.

Above all: We don't need secret plans. We need open discussion of this impending national crisis.


Ryssdal: David Frum is the editor of FrumForum. Back in the day he was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. Robert Reich is up next week. Your thoughts are welcome anytime.

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