The Heritage Foundation
Today President Barack Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform will convene for the first time at the White House. Tasked with making recommendations to Congress that would put the budget in primary balance by 2015 and “meaningfully improve” our nation’s long-term fiscal outlook, the commission meets a little over a month after Congress approved a new $2.5 trillion health care entitlement that the Obama administration now confirms will increase our nation’s total health care spending.
This is a now familiar pattern for the White House: first enact record breaking levels of deficit spending, then turn right around and promise austerity sometime in the future. This February, after signing the largest single-year increase in domestic federal spending since World War II, President Obama held a “fiscal responsibility” summit designed to “send a signal that we are serious” about putting the nation on sounder financial footing. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank quipped at the time: “Holding a ‘fiscal responsibility summit’ at the White House in the middle of a government spending spree is a bit like having an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at a frat house on homecoming weekend.”
The leftist majorities in Congress are no better. Congress has now missed its April 15 deadline for enacting a budget resolution, which is one of the few pieces of legislation that Congress must pass annually. If Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) fails to pass a budget it will be the first time since the 1974 Congressional Budget Act that the House has failed to do so. All over the country, recession-weary families are examining their income and spending, making difficult decisions, and setting family budgets. Yet Congress—despite a $1.5 trillion deficit in 2010 and historic deficits as far as the eye can see—cannot manage to set any budget framework for the next few years.
Some may argue that Congress does not need to pass a budget since President Obama’s commission will be making all the tough choices. But this would only make our fiscal crisis worse: Congress is under deadline to finance the FY 2011 spending bills before September 30—well before the commission is even scheduled to release its report. Without a budget, Congressional appropriators are completely free to ignore all caps on discretionary spending for fiscal year (FY) 2011. Worse, the commission itself is fatally flawed since: 1) its recommendations are not guaranteed a vote in Congress; 2) its recommendations will be considered by a lame duck Congress; 3) there is no indication the commission will take any input from public hearings.
Last week, Pew Research Center released a survey showing just 22% of respondents said they trust the federal government almost always or most of the time. Last March Pew found by 54% to 37%, people favored the government exerting more control over the economy. Now, by 51% to 40%, a majority of Americans say they want less government control. If President Obama’s fiscal responsibility commission is to have any credibility with the American people, the first item on its agenda must be the full repeal of the President’s $2.5 trillion health care entitlement.