Across the pond, Obama’s European counterparts have owned up to governmental fiscal mismanagement. Prime Minister Cameron even went so far as to say that “we've been living beyond our means.” So, both Germany and the United Kingdom, both with deficits-as-a-percentage-of-GDP equal to or less than the US’s and with debt-as-a-percentage-of-GDP significantly less (Germany and the UK are in the high 70% range while the US is in the low 90% range) have embarked upon a course of austerity measures.
Germany, the lowest credit risk in Europe, has decided to cut over 10,000 federal jobs, abolish certain energy sector subsidies, and trim back in a host of smaller ways. Perhaps most significantly, Germany has committed itself to a plan of fiscal prudence with deadlines, and it has committed itself to strong cuts in key areas. In particular, Germany will cut its military spending by over 13% in the next four years. Characterizing the mood well, Chancellor Merkel has said that “everything is up for discussion,” and no programs will be held from scrutiny or deemed too sacred for cuts.
Moreover, as The New York Times reports, “‘none of the savings are to be financed by an increase in the value-added tax, sales tax or any other taxes,’ said Guido Westerwelle, foreign minister and leader of the pro-business Free Democratic Party.”
For its part, the United Kingdom’s new coalition government has already announced £6 billion in budget cuts, a freeze on the recruitment of civil servants, and an assortment of ways to scale back on discretionary spending. But this preliminary announcement still leaves much to be done, and the second part of the plan to restore fiscal responsibility to British government will be announced on June 22. Finally, “at the prebudget report in the autumn, the Treasury duo will have to share their conclusions with the public, spelling out multiyear budget cuts that the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies has said could mean departmental budgets shrink by 25% in real terms over the next few years.” [emphasis added] Further, the coalition remains committed to enacting such reforms if need be.
Not to be upstaged, Obama has announced his idea of how to combat overspending. As Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post reports, “The White House is directing agencies to develop plans for trimming at least 5 percent from their budgets by identifying programs that do little to advance their missions or President Obama's agenda.” [emphasis added] So, whereas the Brits have plans to cut up to 25%, Obama has instructed the agencies, on their own time, to evaluate ways to cut up to 5%. While Merkel has asserted that everything is on the table for negotiation and Cameron instituted a hiring freeze, Obama ordered a three-year spending freeze at most agencies (he only exempted minor agencies like the Department of Defense and Social Security) without any restriction on new hires, and his budget director Peter Orszag had the temerity to ask agencies to list the programs that “are least critical” to their mission.
And amid a changing fiscal culture in the world’s economic powerhouses, Congress forges ahead with plans to discuss an energy bill, a hugely expensive tax extenders bill chock-full of earmarks, additional appropriations, more unemployment benefits, and a possible bailout of pension plans, all provided by new and higher taxes to leach out whatever life remains in the economy. At risk of sounding like Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid, perhaps the U.S. should take a leaf out of Europe’s book.