President's budget confirms debate shift on entitlement reform

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Now for the first time, President Obama is proposing – formally and in writing – chained CPI and reductions to Medicare provider and beneficiary payments. In and of themselves, these are only modest reforms that result in minimal savings and fall far short of the structural changes needed to save these outdated programs from collapse. Yet the fact that a Democratic president is finally offering politically risky specifics represents a sea change. Much of this newfound candor can certainly be attributed to the president’s lame duck status, yet the bruising fiscal battles of the past two years surely played a part. While each individual skirmish might have been ruled only a mixed victory for conservatives, the cumulative effect is a decisive boundary shift. It may soon be possible to propose responsible Medicare reforms and not be depicted throwing senior citizens off of cliffs. Now that one of their own has taken the first tentative step toward entitlement accountability, it will be harder for Democrats to demonize the proponents of reform and fiscal responsibility.
 
Unfortunately, the entitlement section is the budget’s sole gesture toward fiscal responsibility. Liberals feeling scandalized by the adult language regarding Medicare and Social Security can take solace that every other aspect of the budget plan is more in their high-spending comfort zone. Just like the budget offered by Senate Democrats, President Obama’s plan never achieves balance. Aligning spending with revenue is the entire objective of budgeting and should be considered a minimum requirement, yet Democrats in Washington have now made it doubly clear that a balanced budget is simply not important to them. Fair enough. They are permitted to advocate fiscally reckless views. However, the American people should not have to pay for it.  Under President Obama’s budget, the share of national debt per household will increase by $60,980, and the president would charge us $1.1 trillion in new taxes for the favor. This policy is neither fair to taxpayers nor conducive to the economic growth necessary to create jobs. Demanding new taxes while calling for $1 trillion in new spending adds insult to injury.     
 
Despite being unambitious overall, President Obama’s budget has still provoked outrage from liberals for its timid steps toward entitlement reform. Judging by the howls of protest from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and MoveOn.org, we still face an uphill battle to save health and retirement programs and begin reducing the massive burden they exert on the economy. There should be no illusions that President Obama has seen the light and will follow through on pursuing the level of reform needed. Yet the fact that his administration felt compelled to include even minor entitlement reforms is an acknowledgment that the terms of debate have changed. Since retaking the majority in 2011, House Republicans have changed the national conversation on spending cuts from “if” to “how much.” If we can do the same for entitlement reform, it will be a very good thing for the country.
 
Cole (R-Okla.) is a member of the House Budget, Appropriations and Rules committees.