February 2, 2010 | Commentary on Budget and Spending, Federal Budget

The Most Bloated Budget Ever

It's a good thing President Obama and the Democratic Congress just agreed to raise the federal debt limit by nearly $2 trillion -- they're going to need every penny of it. And fast.

Last year, Obama swept into office promising to make tough choices -- and then released a budget proposing the largest debt-and-spending spree in American history. This year, he's at it again: Over 2010-2019, his new plan boosts spending another $1.7 trillion and the deficit by $2 trillion over what he proposed last year.

In fact, this year's budget shows yearly deficits as much as 49 percent larger than even last year's bloated proposal. This spending spree will drive up both taxes and deficits to levels unseen in US history.

Nor are the Obama deficits a temporary result of the recession. Despite a modest recovery, the 2010 budget deficit will be higher than the 2009 deficit. Nearly 42 cents of each dollar Washington spends will be borrowed.

Even by 2020 -- which Obama's planners assume will be a time of peace and prosperity -- annual deficits would still exceed $1 trillion. By that point, nearly a fifth of all taxes would go toward paying the interest on this record debt.

The president who said "I didn't come here to pass our problems on to the next president or the next generation -- I'm here to solve them" would, over the next decade, dump $75,000 per household in added debt into the laps of our children and grandchildren.

Obama claims it's not his fault. In his State of the Union speech, he asserted: "By the time I took office, we had a one-year deficit of over $1 trillion and projected deficits of $8 trillion over the next decade. Most of this was the result of not paying for two wars, two tax cuts and an expensive prescription-drug program."

Not true. Those policies were all implemented in the early 2000s. Yet, by 2007, the budget deficit was still only $162 billion.

The trillion-dollar deficits didn't begin until 2009 -- after the recession hit. And the subsequent deficits are driven by runaway spending -- mainly from Social Security, Medicare (beyond just the drug benefit), Medicaid and net interest.

In fact, under current policies, nearly 90 percent of the growth in the budget deficit by 2020 comes from spending hikes already programmed in -- and just over 10 percent from declines in revenues (And even that assumes all tax cuts are extended.)

Runaway spending is the problem -- yet Obama's budget includes no plan for long-term spending restraint.

Before the recession, Washington spent $24,000 a year per US household. Obama would hike it to $36,000 by 2020 -- an inflation-adjusted $12,000-per-household expansion of government. (And does anyone think they're getting their money's worth?)

If spending jumps $12,000 per household, taxes must eventually rise. The president would make a large down-payment on that with a $2 trillion tax hike on all Americans. Yet that would still leave the government running up $8.5 trillion in deficits over the decade, setting the stage for even larger and more damaging broad-based tax hikes later.

Ominously, economists close to the White House suggest that a value-added tax (which is like a national sales tax) of 15 percent and 20 percent is eventually possible to finance the president's spending agenda.

Obama has offered a budget that does nothing to address the nation's serious short- or long-term fiscal problems. Indeed, it makes them worse. By doubling the national debt over pre-recession levels, he'd push America toward a tipping point -- where rising debt levels will become too large for global capital markets to absorb. This could trigger a financial crisis, an interest-rate spike and gigantic tax hikes.

Last year, Congress went along with most of Obama's budget proposals -- enacting a $787 billion "stimulus," raising discretionary spending by 8 percent and approving more than 10,000 earmarks. But it eventually balked at the president's expensive cap-and-trade and health plans.

This time around, Congress should give priority to the interests of beleaguered taxpayers -- and future generations -- and reject Obama's budget.

Brian M. Riedl is Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Brian M. Riedl Grover Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

First Appeared in the New York Post