“I understand that the politically safe move would be to kick the can further down the road — to defer reform one more year, or one more election, or one more term. “
– President Obama, September 9, 2009, in his address to Congress
In his speech last night, Obama tried to imitate a man concerned by the costs of his health care proposal. Obama promised that his bill would be deficit neutral:
I will not sign it if it adds one dime to the deficit, now or in the future, period. And to prove that I’m serious, there will be a provision in this plan that requires us to come forward with more spending cuts if the savings we promised don’t materialize.
Obama’s “serious” promises lack substance. As previously argued, pledging “not to sign” a bill is meaningless: the President must veto a bill to block its passage. But the “promised savings” suggestion is even more insidious. Such a provision merely promises to delay any budgetary solution until a crisis has actually arrived. As Obama would say, it kicks the can further down the road to defer reform one more year, one more election, or one more term.
What faith should people have that actual budget cuts will be made at this future point, when they cannot be made now? Congress would have to actively draft specific cuts – cuts that hurt special interests eager to preserve their spot at the public trough. Congress would retain all power to break this non-binding promise. So how likely is it that Congressmen would take up arms against their campaign contributors, instead of raising taxes or taking on more debt?
If Obama were really interested in proposing a fiscally responsible bill, he would be proposing conditional spending, not conditional spending cuts. He would propose subsidies that took effect after his “savings” were realized, not unspecified spending cuts after the savings proved illusory. “Trust me” is not a cost-cutting reform worth $900 billion – or any amount.
Obama’s unserious proposals force us to choose between two conclusions. Either he doesn’t know what he’s doing, or he is insincere. Given his eloquence, education, and the vast resources of his office, the former seems precluded.