President Obama took his wife on a date in New York City, getting there and back via Air Force One, helicopters and a limousine, paying for this transportation with maybe $24,000 in taxpayer cash, and giving a vivid example of how he says one thing (it’s time for sacrifice) and does another (indulges in a splurge).
In and of itself, this was no big deal, the sort of expense charade that’s helping to bring down a government in Britain, to be sure, but that is equivalent in terms of federal outlays to a grain of sand in tons of the stuff. There remains a symbolic lesson that looms large — Obama is turning out to be the spender in chief even as he promises sacrifice and fiscal discipline, making him the deceiver in chief.
His latest escapade in trickery was to announce PAYGO, a word that stands for pay-as-you-go and supposedly means that Congress must come up with program cuts or taxes to compensate for new expenditures. Then come the exemptions that cover most of what’s in the budget. As for this sliver left targeted, Congress will do what it darned well wants. It has its own trunk of tricks, observers note.
PAYGO, in other words, is all show and no go. The real Obama emerges with his California-look-alike scheme: Spend more, tax less, go broke.
The story from various accounts is a sad one. Abetted by a recession and statewide initiatives, California’s governors and legislature have done their irresponsible best over the years to create a $24 billion chasm between obligations and revenue. Minus a scam, Washington relief or some kind of heroic, last minute fix, cash is due to run out in late July.
The U.S. government has more time but is headed the same direction, thanks to such administration enthusiasms as a $3.5 trillion budget for 2010, a misdirected $800 billion stimulus package, the buying up of a major chunk of the auto industry, extraordinary visions of an expanded womb-to-tomb welfare state and planned tax cuts that largely cancel out planned hikes.
Commentators of a realistic bent cite such facts and pass on some basic arithmetic. One tells us for instance that the deficit this year ($1.8 trillion) will be four times higher than the one last year and that the total addition to the debt 10 years out will be something close to $9 trillion. Even if you paid for this with taxes — leaving us in serious pain while relieving our grandchildren of some of the burden — you’d still be taking money out of the private economy to the serious detriment of economic growth.
George W. Bush had a lot to do with the mess, it’s said, and there’s truth perched atop the observation. But every new boss should know that at some point he is responsible for correcting the mistakes of the old boss or else they become his.
It’s also said we’re now in an emergency that will pass and that when it does we’ll get some of the bailout funds and other money back. Maybe. But much that Obama is doing could create new emergencies in the way of ultra-high interest rates or inflation, and meanwhile we are faced with tens of trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for Social Security and Medicare — an amount equal to $483,000 per household, according to an article in The Economist magazine.
The economist Thomas Sowell has noted that it used to be said the United States could not go bankrupt because we owe the money to ourselves. Now, he said, we owe much of it to foreign lands. Among them is China, where the faith in our future does not seem high. Visiting there recently, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said China’s holdings in our debt were "very safe," and students listening to him broke out in laughter.
The next time you hear Obama mention PAYGO, you might do the same.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)