What would you think of a man who knew he was not well for more than a year, then assembled a team of experts which spent seven months to diagnose a fatal, but treatable disease and recommend a comprehensive cure?
Would you consider the man prudent? Sensible? Cautious?
What would you say about the same man if, four months after learning the diagnosis and cure, he rejected the diagnosis of his hand-picked experts, leaving the disease untreated, but promised that, if his condition hadn't improved in another three years, he would assemble another team of experts to diagnose his condition and recommend treatment?
Most people would have little sympathy for a fatal act of denial by an unserious man.
That story is a metaphor for exactly the scenario that played out in President Barack Obama's April 13, 2011 speech on spending, the deficits, and debt. America faces a sovereign debt crisis. In his speech, Mr. Obama prescribed palliative care until America as we know it dies or until he's reelected, whichever comes first, though he appears more concerned about the latter. Long-term debt can destroy America, but short-term economic uncertainty and joblessness may rule out a second Obama term. Mr. Obama appears determined to obscure the crisis and mask the uncertainty ahead of the next presidential election.
In early 2010, President Obama appointed The National Commission for Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, called the Bowles-Simpson Commission for its bipartisan co-chairmen. The Commission met in April to address spending and debt. On December 1, 2010, the Commission delivered their diagnosis and proposed a six-part plan "to put our nation back on a path to fiscal health, promote economic growth, and protect the most vulnerable among us."
In synopsis, the Obama-appointed Commission confirmed that the national debt is indeed a huge problem and that, if not treated immediately, debt would have severe negative consequences for America. The co-chairmen agreed that the debt resulted from government overspending, not too little revenue. The Commission's report said that all spending, especially entitlement spending, must be brought under control, and that the best way to increase revenues is through tax reform.
The Commission's diagnosis was simple. But their prescribed treatment would be difficult, inconvenient, and occasionally painful, because the treatment includes mitigating the unsustainable spiraling costs of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
In his speech, given more than four months after the Commission's findings were released and more than two years after acknowledging the problem, the president not only rejected his Commission's diagnosis and prescription, he denied the disease by urging that America double down on the spending that caused its symptoms. Obama proposed only to address deficits by raising taxes, an act to which he applied the Orwellian description "spending reductions in tax code." In Washington, raising taxes means spending increases, never paying down debt. Effectively, the president recommended that we borrow less money by taking more from taxpayers and ignoring the issue of overspending and the existing debt.
Obama pledged that, if he were unsuccessful in reducing the deficit to manageable levels by 2014 (two years after his reelection to a final term) he would act by appointing another commission to diagnose the problem and propose solutions, anticipating that their prescription would be to raise taxes again. Another commission. Really!
Older Americans will remember the "Wimpy" character in Popeye cartoons who often pleaded, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today." President Obama's speech was eerily reminiscent of Wimpy's something-for-nothing appeal for instant gratification.
Mr. Obama said he wants to "invest" (Washington-speak for "spend") more and raise taxes to pay for the additional spending. The president wants us to accept his uncertain, but unlikely prediction of a smaller debt but with a certain, far larger government. The two are incompatible. And larger government always infringes on personal liberties.
More importantly, the president's speech admitted that, other than mouthing divisive, deceptive, formulaic platitudes, his administration has no plan for addressing the greatest existential threat to America, the ever-increasing national debt.
President Obama's hand-picked bipartisan commission proposed spending reforms to restore fiscal responsibility. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has proposed another set of reforms. In the absence of presidential leadership, it is these two models that will necessarily shape the financial debate in Washington.
Because of the office he holds, President Obama is a consequential man, but his positions on spending, deficits and debt confirms that he is not a serious one