Sign #4,682 that the Senate and Obama aren't serious about entitlement reform
In July, the Congressional Budget Office put out yet another report showing that the U.S. federal debt is growing unsustainably. The biggest reason for the growth, which has already slowed the U.S. economy and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future, is entitlement spending.
Yet members of Congress, especially in the Senate, appear eager and willing to avoid their responsibility to reform entitlements, particularly Social Security and Medicare. While both parties have used tremendous rhetoric about reforming both programs since 2010, Democratic unwillingness to pass a budget has been matched by Republican plans that tiptoe around the problem.
Even the allegedly conservative budget plan put out by the GOP-controlled House won't balance the budget for years, provides only general guidance on Social Security reform, and fails to begin Medicare reform in a timely manner. And yet this is the plan that has the most support of any being discussed on Capitol Hill.
Things look unlikely to change in light of the Senate's approval of Shaun Donovan to head the White House's budget office – the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Who is Donovan? He was the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from 2009 until this week, when he was sworn in as the head of OMB. In July, he was voted by the Senate to head OMB, despite a record of incompetence and corruption at HUD and a complete lack of knowledge about the federal budget and entitlements.
Among other sins, Donovan headed up HUD when it failed two straight annual audits. He is also under investigation for using illegally accessed funds to pay a consultant for three years, which, as one Hill aide told me, means that “we could see the OMB director simultaneously in office and in jail.”
Donovan also failed the smell test when it came to competence on Social Security, Medicare, and the federal budget in general. As noted by Senator Jeff Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, Donovan has “not written any papers or given any talks or lectures that specifically lay out a comprehensive plan for Medicare or Social Security.” Furthermore, Donovan regurgitated talking points when questioned by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) about the Social Security Trust Fund. Rather than answer a few simple questions from Johnson, Donovan chose to dodge.
Johnson ended up opposing the nomination of Donovan because, as he told me, “Shaun Donovan was not ... truthful with the American public.”
Clearly, the president of the United States is not serious about entitlement reform if the top man at his budget office – which puts together the president's budget each year – doesn't know anything about effective organization or entitlement reform. Yet Obama had the gall to say that OMB would be led by “a proven, effective leader.”
Likewise, it was the Senate that sent Donovan to OMB, with more than half of Republicans supporting his nomination as well as all voting Democrats. While several top Republicans, including Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and John Cornyn of Texas, opposed Donovan's nomination, it is absolutely terrifying that over 20 Republican senators thought their constitutional duty to give “advice and consent” for Obama's nominee included putting such an incapable person in a top office.
What does all of this show? First, as noted above, Obama isn't serious about entitlement reform. Second, many in the GOP are willing to continue the dog-and-pony show of talking about entitlement reform without putting their votes where their mouths are. And finally, Senate Democrats are willing to absolve themselves of fiscal responsibility because the president is in their party.
Perhaps 2015 and 2016 will bring about real entitlement reform, which this country desperately needs. But after what happened earlier this month, there's plenty of room for cynicism.