Barack Obama earlier this month unveiled his $3.9 trillion budget plan for fiscal year 2015. “It is a road map for creating jobs with good wages and expanding opportunity for Americans,” said the president.
Although the Constitution doesn’t mention a federal budget, and it is ultimately up to Congress — not the president — to decide how much the federal government will spend in any given fiscal year, according to the Budget and Accounting Act of 1921, the president must annually submit to Congress a budget for the next fiscal year no earlier than the first Monday in January and no later than the first Monday in February. Because the government’s fiscal year runs from October 1 to September 30, the budget submitted by the president in February is for the next fiscal year that begins in October.
But since it is not practical for a new president, who takes office on January 20, to submit a budget within a few days of taking office, he is given extra time to submit a budget his first year in office. That is why Obama submitted to Congress just an overview of his FY2010 budget on February 26, 2009, but did not submit detailed budget information until May of that year. But after submitting his budget on time in 2010, the president has failed to do so every year since. Republicans are again criticizing the president for his tardiness because his FY2015 budget was submitted a month late, on March 4.
But the budget’s tardiness is not the only thing about the president’s budget that Republicans are objecting to. “This budget isn’t a serious document; it’s a campaign brochure,” said House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. “After years of fiscal and economic mismanagement, the president has offered perhaps his most irresponsible budget yet,” said House Speaker John Boehner in a statement. “Spending too much, borrowing too much, and taxing too much, it would hurt our economy and cost jobs.”
According to an analysis by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Obama’s FY2015 budget would have the following effects:
• Spending would go from $3.5 trillion in 2013 to nearly $6 trillion in 2024.
• Debt borrowed in credit markets (public debt) would grow from $12 trillion in 2013 to $19 trillion in 2024.
• The national debt, including debt owed to government agencies would grow from $17.3 trillion today to $25 trillion in 2024.
Specifically, Obama’s budget is faulted mainly because of its approach to entitlement reform, its tax-reform policies, its funding of federal job-training programs, its education proposals, and its approach to health care.
Obama’s budget does not adopt “chained CPI” for Social Security COLAS. That would be “a good step towards preserving benefits for those that need them most in the future.”
Obama’s budget proposes a cap on itemized deductions for high-earning families. It brings back the “Buffet Rule,” which is “premised on the false notion that high-earners don’t pay their fair share.” It increases the estate tax. It raises taxes on tobacco. And it increases unemployment insurance taxes.
It requests $11.8 billion for federal job-training programs “to equip the nation’s workers and job seekers with skills matching the needs of employers looking to hire them into good jobs.”
His budget includes a new $300 million “Race to the Top” education grant. It pushes for the adoption of the “Common Core” national education standards, and it “proposes to spend billions to create universal preschool for every four-year-old child in the country.”
Obama’s budget “maintains the implementation of Obamacare,” fails to make any “meaningful reform” to the Medicaid program, and fails to “provide sufficient changes to stabilize or enhance the solvency” of Medicare “for future generations.”
But why should Republicans object to Obama’s new budget?
Obama’s budget is not balanced. It is higher than the previous year. It increases spending. It increases debt. And it funds the welfare state. Sounds exactly like all the budgets of Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.
The federal budget under Bush not only increased every year; it exploded from $2 trillion to $3.1 trillion. During his last year in office, Bush ran a $1 trillion budget deficit, the first in the nation’s history. The national debt likewise increased from $5.73 trillion at the time of his first inauguration to $10.63 trillion on the last day of his second term.
Republicans are wholly committed to the Social Security program — an intergenerational, social-engineering, income-transfer, wealth-redistribution program. Although they often propose reforms to “save” the system and “preserve” it for future generations, they fully accept the idea that the federal government should provide a safety net, take care of the aged, operate a retirement and disability plan, help those who cannot help themselves, and keep widows, orphans, the elderly, and the disabled out of poverty.
Republicans are not opposed to taxes on principle. The so-called Bush tax cuts had multiple tax brackets that taxed “the rich” at progressively higher rates than “the poor” — lest high-earners not pay their “fair share.” When Republicans had absolute control of the government under George W. Bush they could have easily cut or eliminated taxes on tobacco and other substances. They chose not to. They could have permanently done away with the estate tax instead of gradually, but temporarily, bringing its rate down to zero. They chose not to. They could have removed all caps on itemized deductions. They chose not to. They could have lowered or abolished unemployment insurance taxes. They chose not to. That latter example also shows us that Republicans have no objection to the federal government’s having an unemployment insurance program even though it is not authorized by the Constitution they claim to revere and follow.
Republicans have no philosophical objection to federal job-training programs. They may oppose certain programs because they are inefficient, duplicative, or expensive, but they have long accepted the idea that the federal government should fund or operate job-training programs, have a Department of Labor, and collect labor and unemployment statistics.
Republican opposition to “Race to the Top” grants, the “Common Core” standards, and universal preschool should not be mistaken for opposition to the massive federal government intervention that exits in the field of education. Not only do Republicans have their own federal programs such as “No Child Left Behind,” they fully support Pell Grants, federal student loans, the National School Lunch Program, Head Start, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, federal vouchers, federal special-education mandates, federal math and science initiatives, and federal research grants to universities. Although there is nothing in the Constitution that authorizes the federal government to be involved in any way, shape, or form with the education of any American, it has been 30 years since Republicans have seriously talked about abolishing the Department of Education — a department they greatly expanded in size and scope during the presidency of George W. Bush.
Republican opposition to Obamacare should likewise not be mistaken for opposition to the massive intrusion by the federal government into the health-care and health-insurance industries. Republicans created the State Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997 and greatly expanded Medicare in 2003 with the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. Republicans fully support the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health and Human Services, federal vaccination programs, federal grants for medical research, federal funding of clinical trials, federal HIV/AIDS-prevention initiatives, federal laboratories, Medicare, and Medicaid. That is because the Republican argument against Obamacare was never about real medical freedom. Republicans may say they don’t believe in the federal government’s forcing Americans to purchase health insurance for themselves, but over the years some of them have proposed conservative versions of Obamacare with health-insurance mandates. And Republicans certainly do believe in forcing some Americans to pay for the health care or health insurance of other Americans through SCHIP, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Republican objections to Obama’s budget are inconsistent and insignificant. They fully support almost every aspect of the welfare state. But once you allow that it is the purpose of government to provide welfare, education, job training, unemployment compensation, or health care, you are destined to forever argue with your “opponents” — who likewise accept the legitimacy of the welfare state — over questions about the proper funding levels and operational details of welfare-state programs — questions for which there are no right or wrong answers.
Libertarians alone have the right answers to those questions because they alone recognize that maintaining a welfare state is an illegitimate purpose of government. In a few weeks Republicans will release their alternative budget. Although it will differ from Obama’s budget in the details, it will likewise propose to continue the welfare state in much the same form as it currently exists. So why bother? Republicans have no serious or substantial objections to Obama’s new budget.