The debates are about to begin. I wish I could ask the President the questions the media will refuse to ask.
Q1: The size of the government is typically stated as a share of the economy. In modern history, the size of the federal government has averaged approximately 20% of GDP. What is your vision for the right size of government over the next five, ten and twenty years?
Q2: You have not released a federal budget since 2010, and it’s been even longer since democrats in the Senate have released a budget. What is your specific budget plan for the next ten years? (UPDATE: I provided misinformation here. See note at the bottom of the post.)
Q3: You have passed a series of short-term tax cuts that are about to expire. The Bush-era tax cuts are ready to expire. What is your long-term tax plan?
Q4: Medicare and Social Security are on a path towards insolvency. You have said that Medicare is “unsustainable”. What is your plan to reform Medicare and Social Security?
Q5: In what year do your plans achieve a balanced budget?
You’ll notice a theme among these questions. Many, including myself, have accused the administration of not having plans to deal with our most significant structural problems. Even the President’s treasury secretary Tim Geithner said to Paul Ryan and Congress: “We’re not coming before you to say we have a definitive solution to our long-term [debt] problem. What we do know is that we don’t like yours.”
But to say that the President doesn’t have a plan is probably incorrect. He just hasn’t shared it with the American people.
Size of Government
As far as I know, the President has never said what the size of government should be. Not only is this a fair question, but it gets directly to the point of the President’s vision for the country, and the role of government. Paul Ryan passed a budget in the House that restrained government spending to the traditional average of 20% of GDP and was labeled a radical by the left. The Simpson-Bowles debt commission recommended restraining government to 21% of GDP and was ignored by the President.
So what does the President believe? Larry Summers, who was the Director of the President’s Economic Council, has released a series of articles and comments that last couple of years about the size of government. He believes that the government will need to be bigger. Significantly bigger. Here’s his article in the Washington Post from August of this year (click here). And here’s an excerpt from it:
But there is a widespread view in both parties that it is feasible and desirable that in the future the federal government should be no larger as a share of the overall economy than it has been historically. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be achieved. For structural reasons, even preserving the amount of government functions that predated the financial crisis will require substantial increases in the share of the U.S. economy devoted to the public sector.
I added the bold for emphasis. He goes on to say:
But for the next three decades the United States will confront the reality that major structural changes in its economy will compel an increase in the public sector’s fraction of the total economy…
What are “substantial increases” in the size of government? Does the President agree with this? We deserve to know.
It is appalling to me that the President has not presented a budget since 2010, and that the democrats in the Senate have not presented a budget in more than three years. The last time the President released a budget it was basically laughed out of Washington as un-serious. Why has he not presented a budget? Because he has no intention of restraining government spending. (UPDATE: I provided misinformation here. See note at the bottom of the post.)
I’ve been on the tax reform bandwagon for decades. Seriously. Decades. Our tax code is a complete mess. I have visited the President’s website. His ONLY mention of tax reform is the Buffet Rule. But the Buffet Rule is only a drop in the bucket. From Forbes:
The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) says that the Buffett Rule as proposed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-CT) would increase revenues by $47 billion over the coming decade, assuming that the 2001-2010 tax cuts (on the rich) expire as scheduled.
We’re running trillion dollar yearly deficits, and the President’s solution is to generate an additional $4.7 billion per year from the Buffet Rule. We need real and significant tax reform in this country. And we need it now.
But the real reason the President hasn’t presented a tax plan? If your intent is to “significantly increase” the size of government, eventually you will also have to significantly increase tax revenues. And it’s impossible to tax the rich enough to make up the difference. Taxes are going up on the middle class, and probably significantly. When? Obama’s planning for that to be the next President’s problem. He just wants to push us down the path towards a significantly larger federal government.
It’s impossible to achieve long-term financial stability, and eventually balanced budgets, without tackling our toughest problems — Medicare and Social Security. The President has put forth no plan to fix either of these programs. Why? Because I don’t believe he has any interest in changing the programs. If left as they are today, they will soon make the federal government significantly larger.
All of these issues tie together. Our country spends more money every year that it collects in revenues. Even the Clinton surpluses were illusory, and created by payroll tax revenues that exceeded expenditures on Medicare and Social Security. I think you probably know my thoughts on this one. The President has no intention of putting together a plan to get us to balanced budgets. He’s counting on a significantly larger government necessitating significant tax increases in the future.
So where does the President stand on these issues? I think I know. I’d just like to hear him say it.
UPDATE: Just saw this in the USA Today of all places. Seems like we’re pretty much on the same page, though the President has already answered the first question on multiple occasions, stating that the situation was much worse than they expected. Read it here.
UPDATE 2: Made a mistake on this one. The President DID propose a budget this year. You can read it here. I had it in my mind that it was just a budget framework, but it is an actual, scorable budget. It should be noted that it was voted on in the House, and lost 414-0. And it was voted on in the Senate, and lost 99-0. Not a single democrat voted for it.