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Mar 25 2011

Worsening Our Fiscal Nightmare

We need honest, fact-based budgeting.

Last Friday, the Congressional Budget Office scored President Obama’s ten-year budget plan. Their findings underscore a painful truth: The president is failing to engage in the kind of honest dialogue necessary to rally the country behind needed action.

His budget — widely criticized for growing our gross debt by $13 trillion, swelling our bloated bureaucracy, and ignoring our surging entitlements — is so filled with gimmicks and manipulations that the CBO found an additional $2.3 trillion in deficits beyond what the White House projected.

It is the most irresponsible spending plan put forward by a president in our time. It not only fails to change, but actually accelerates us along, our dangerous fiscal trajectory.

Yet the White House presents the budget as practically solving our fiscal nightmare. In what can only be described as an assault on the English language, the president and his budget director have boasted to the American people that under their budget we will “live within our means” and “not add more to the debt,” and that “we’re not going to spend any more money than we’re taking in.” In fact, the CBO finds that our annual deficits never once fall below $748 billion dollars. And they climb to $1.2 trillion in the tenth year.

Just imagine the fate a CEO would face if, in the process of asking for shareholders to invest in company stock, he declared that “we are not adding to the debt” while his accountants were telling him that the company’s debt would double.

We need honest, fact-based budgeting — not fantasy budgeting. That is the only way to dig ourselves out of this mess and to put our nation on the path to prosperity.

The co-chairmen of the president’s own fiscal commission declared that if we fail to take swift and serious action, our country faces “the most predictable economic crisis in its history.” They disagreed only on the timeline. Erskine Bowles estimated we had at least two years, while Alan Simpson estimated we had closer to one. Similar warnings have been sounded by experts across the country and the world.

But we cannot solve this problem if we do not even acknowledge it exists. We cannot curb our soaring deficits if the White House conceals them in its budget submission. And we cannot confront our fiscal crisis if our president remains unwilling to confront fiscal reality.

As I have said for many weeks, the president must look the American people in the eye and tell them the bitter truth about how badly their finances have been mishandled and how perilous it would be to remain on our current course.

It is no mystery what we have to do: reduce discretionary spending immediately and significantly, and then sustain these reductions over the coming years. Contrary to the Washington myth, such action will save vast sums of money and greatly ease our deficit burden. Tightening our discretionary budget will also make government leaner, more efficient, and more productive. And it will begin to restore investor confidence and spur job creation in the private sector.

We also need to restructure our tax code, energy policy, and regulatory apparatus so that they no longer penalize productivity.

In other words: Grow the economy, not the government.

Finally, we need to contain entitlement spending in a way that makes these programs sustainable — many lawmakers have presented valid ideas on how this can be achieved.

But, for any of this to happen, the president must recognize that the budget battle is not just another political fight. At stake is much more than the fate of any one politician, or any one political party. At stake is the financial future of every single American.

We know the threat. We know what we need to do. What we don’t know is what the president is waiting for.

America’s leaders have no higher duty, no greater moral responsibility, than to take all appropriate steps to protect the good people we serve from a clear and present danger.

— Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) is a ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee.

This op-ed originally appeared in the National Review.