Monday, March 02, 2009

Buckley goes wobbly

Christopher Buckley is always very funny and generally fair-minded. But his equivocal indulgence in the audacity of nope in response to Obama's budget strikes me as knee-jerk conservatism:

One thing is certain, however: Government is getting bigger and will stay bigger. Just remember the apothegm that a government that is big enough to give you everything you want is also big enough to take it all away. And remember what de Tocqueville told us about a bureaucracy that grows so profuse that not even the most original mind can penetrate it.

If this is what the American people want, so be it, but they ought to have no illusions about the perils of this approach. Mr. Obama is proposing among everything else $1 trillion in new entitlements, and entitlement programs never go away, or in the oddly poetic bureaucratic jargon, “sunset.” He is proposing $1.4 trillion in new taxes, an appetite for which was largely was whetted by the shameful excesses of American CEO corporate culture. And finally, he has proposed $5 trillion in new debt, one-half the total accumulated national debt in all US history. All in one fell swoop.

It's that big government bogey -- government as Santa. But what is Obama proposing to 'give' us? Marginally adequate health insurance, so that tens of millions are not bankrupted by health care bills? Schools that aren't falling down, or that graduate more than 70% of teenagers (with something better than the 8th grade reading levels with which many are now passed through)? A few tax breaks to the working poor to subsidize our Dickensian minimum wage? A modernized electrical grid, and infrastructure that's not on a third world trajectory?

And about that debt before which Buckley professes to quail: how much of that is unavoidable bailout? Consensus-level (among the reality-based community) stimulus? Down payment on a long-term budget fixer like breaking health care inflation? War costs actually counted as part of the budget?

As for that $1.4 trillion tax bogey: over the ten years from 2001-2010, Bush cut taxes by $2.35 trillion, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Obama's increases are in fact too modest -- after eight years of Bush and nearly thirty in the grip of Reaganism this nation is seriously under-taxed.

I'll cop to a bit of Buckley's anxiety. The one thing about Obama's budgeting and long-term economic and political strategy that troubles me is his oft-repeated promise not to raise taxes on households earning less than $250,000 -- that is, on 95% of the country. That can't stand. I wish he hadn't been so read-my-lips about it. It's also true, as Buckley warns, that Obama's growth projections are too rosy.

But with all there is to fear out there, Obama's budget is low on my list.

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