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July 18, 2012

Senator Reid, What's Your Plan?

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With federal debt soaring, you’d think Senator Harry Reid (D., Nev.) and his Democratic colleagues might at least pretend to have a plan to get deficits under control. Think again.

The federal government has jacked up the national debt by nearly $5 trillion under President Obama. How much is that? It’s about $44,000 per American household. And it is going up every month. The average household’s share will go up another $4,000 between now and the end of the year. With the economy stalling, under current policies the federal budget picture isn’t likely to improve much in coming years before going completely out of control as entitlement spending soars.

So, what’s the plan? How are we going to turn this around? The Heritage Foundation released a comprehensive plan called “Saving the American Dream” that prevents tax hikes and balances the budget in ten years through spending reduction. More important than any detail of the Heritage plan, it demonstrates it is possible to control the federal leviathan without resorting to tax hikes and without draconian changes to federal programs.

What about President Obama? He produced a budget early in 2012, but it was so laced with absurdities that it was widely panned by commentators and ignored by members of his party — truly a “thanks for coming” moment. In a now classic Obama move, his budget assumes current spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would continue indefinitely if not for his policies to wind down those activities, and then claims the difference as savings. Next Obama will assume double-digit inflation and the resulting higher spending as the norm, then claim his policies gave us price stability, and then claim the lower spending as savings from his policies.

To its great credit, the House of Representatives passed a budget plan on time, again this year. But the House can’t move forward by itself. The Senate has to move, too. For three years the Democrats running the Senate have ignored common sense and ignored the law and have failed to pass a budget. Senator Kent Conrad, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, wanted to do the right thing, to bring a budget plan to the floor for debate and votes. But Reid said no.

Why does Reid refuse to bring up a budget? As he won’t say, we can only speculate. Conrad’s professional staff is certainly capable of producing budgets reflecting all manner of policies. Is there no time on the Senate calendar? Are all those “district work periods,”aka recesses, aka prime junket opportunities, getting in the way of doing his job? Or perhaps Reid has a secret plan and is simply afraid to let the American people see what it is? Conspiracies are a dime a dozen, but it’s fair to wonder.

This may seem like inside-the-ballpark Washington esoterica. But budgeting is fundamental to governance, whether family budgets cramped from low-wage growth and high unemployment, company budgets in the face of a weak economy, state budgets hammered in some cases by years of profligacy now undercut by weak revenues, or a federal government that has apparently turned increasing debt into a favored hobby.

Given this grim reality, Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, deserves a shout-out. Recently, he expressed his indignation over the Senate’s abdication of responsibility when he challenged Senator Reid on the floor of the Senate to answer a simple question. “Senator Reid, what’s your plan”? Well, we’re waiting.

— J.D. Foster is the Norman B. Ture Senior Fellow in the Economics of Fiscal Policy at The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C.

First appeared in The National Review's 'The Corner'

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