The Big Question: Will the budget deficit be a major issue for voters?

Some of the nation's top political commentators, legislators and intellectuals offer their insight into the biggest question burning up the blogosphere today.


Today's question:

With a $1.27 trillion deficit projected by economists, will approving President Barack Obama's $3.8 trillion budget hurt Democrats in November?


Some background reading here.


John Castellani, president of the Business Roundtable, said:

The deficit and economic growth should be top of mind for Congress – Democrats and Republicans alike – as they consider the President’s budget proposals.
 
As our economy begins to recover, now is the time to get serious about tackling the deficit. Some of the short-term measures that led to this large shortfall – including TARP and the stimulus – were essential to pull our economy back from the brink. However, these large deficits are simply unsustainable over the long term and we must now take concrete steps to address them. Without reform, inflation will eat away at the savings of families and, if left unchecked, will push our nation into insolvency and dependence on other countries. Just look at the problems we see today in Greece and Portugal. Business Roundtable’s member CEOs support the creation of a deficit-reduction commission and agree with the President’s pledge to halve the deficit by the end of his first term. We also agree with his proposal to freeze discretionary spending as a first step.
 
At the same time, we have serious concerns about how some of his budget proposals will impact the economy – proposed international tax increases on U.S. companies will impede economic growth and make it harder to create jobs and lower America’s double-digit unemployment rate. The Administration’s proposals would tie the hands of American workers and companies just as our major foreign competitors are creating tax plans to enhance their international competitiveness. Now, more than ever, we simply cannot afford to gamble away economic recovery and job creation on risky tax increases.
 
So there are perils on either side – letting the deficit grow unchecked or stifling economic growth through unsound tax policies. The keys to solving this issue will be bipartisanship and a long-term approach. We stand ready to work with policymakers to do our part.


Karen Scharff, Executive Director of Citizen Action of New York, said:

The devastating Supreme Court decision that reversed a ban on unlimited political funding from corporate and union treasuries needs to be reversed by the Court. But in the meantime Congress needs to act boldly to 1) protect Congressional candidates from being held hostage by wealthy special interests – e.g. Goldman Sachs tells candidates it will flood the airwaves with negative ads against them unless they reject calls for regulation of financial houses or alternatively promises to run millions of dollars of ads against their opponents if they reject regulation; 2) fight the rampant political cynicism and alienation resulting from most Americans’ belief – now more than ever - that Congress is bought and sold by big special interests; and 3) create an alternative to the almost total dependence of Congressional candidates on large special interest campaign contributions.

There will be many suggestions for a “fix.” But tweaking the system – which surely could pass – will not solve or even address these three basic problems. What is required is serious response to the radical Supreme Court decision. Congressional candidates need to be able to secure alternative campaign funding through public financing.  The “Fair Elections Now Act” - a bill in the House sponsored by John Larson (D-CT) and Walter Jones (R-NC) and in the Senate by Dick Durbin (D-IL)and Arlen Specter (D-PA) - would  go far in reducing the harmful effects of the “Citizens United” decision. The House bill has attracted over 125 co-sponsors, with members seeing it as an attractive way to run. Fair Elections would give candidates the option to be funded by small donations and a public grant that could both eliminate their dependence on special interest money and involve more ordinary Americans in election campaigns. Independence from special interest funding would allow candidates to expose and denounce any corporate independent expenditures targeting them.

Voluntary public financing of campaigns already exists in many states and cities. It enables ordinary Americans to run for office and loosen the stranglehold of special interests on elections and legislation. It is Constitutional, successful, inexpensive, and attracts a diversity of candidates, giving voters more choice. A public financing option is the only way for Congress to prove to the American people that it wants a real democracy where the people, not the special interests, drive the political process.


Michael T. McPhearson, executive director of Veterans For Peace, said:

Discrimination in any form is wrong. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is discrimination. The U.S. claims to stand for freedom while at the same time discriminating against people we claim defends those freedoms. Anyone of age who chooses to serve in the Armed Forces should have the right to do so. When I served in the Army there were a few people who may or may not have been gay. They never approached me and I never asked so I do not know for sure. But whatever their sexual orientation, they did their jobs well. That is all that counts. Soldiers who are homophobic need help getting over their homophobia. Inappropriate sexual behavior no matter the circumstances should be investigated and punished. However, the determination of suitable or inappropriate behavior must not be dependent upon sexual orientation. There must not be a double standard; one for heterosexual and another for homosexuals.
 
The military does have a problem with sexual behavior. It is the behavior of heterosexual male service members towards their women comrades and the lower number of cases of sexual abuse of men once again by other male service members who would profess to be heterosexual. I have seen numbers as high as 1 in 3 women who serve in the military and 905 have been sexually harassed. Granted is not agreement on these numbers; however 1 out of 4 or 1 out of 5 and 50% sexually harassed is unacceptable. This is an epidemic that must be addressed. Let’s spend less time on gay troops and more time on changing the culture of the military so that women need not fear their peers.



Ron Walters, professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, said:

The normal politics of this situation would be that if you equalize the challenge of a reduction in unemployment with the deficit problem, the public has generally privileged the former and forgotten the latter. Thus the deficit only matters in a context where the anger of the public over the lack of personal security exists.  I would think, given this, that the Democrats may be in some trouble, since Obama's job creation mechanism is relatively modest in its emphasis on tax incentives and levying $30 billion to community banks so they can hire.   Businesses don't hire just because there is money available, they hire because there is an increasing demand for their product, so unless there is overall growth in demand, this strategy might not be as dynamic as required to affect the unemployment rate much. In any case, I think that the so-called "freeze" -- whether or not it is a fraud -- could hurt aspects of the Democratic party like blacks whose needy depend upon precisely those categories of the budget that will likely be frozen.  Unless the projected unemployment rate of 20% by this Fall is satiated, the political effect of this is likely to deepen cynicism and affect their turnout, as it has in the by-year elections we have seen thus far.



Ron Bonjean, Republican strategist, said:

The new budget presented by President Obama feels like health care reform:  it is dividing Democrats and uniting Republicans.  Democrats are cool to the across-the-board spending freeze and Republicans are critical of the billions in tax increases that will further hurt our economy.   The budget is used by the President to communicate his priorities for the year.   According to recent polls,  creating jobs is the number one issue for Americans.    Why then would the White House release a document that is going to be treated like a piñata in the media and will fail to connect with voters? 


A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, said:

The die is cast for Democrats in November -- a hiring surge materializes and unemployment drops and the party in power claims credit, staving off heavy losses in the midterm elections or the highly motivated and angry voters turn out to defeat incumbents and the disappointed, apathetic Democrats who brought President Obama to victory in 2008 stay home and the Democrats possibly lose control of the House.
 
Governing in the age of permanent deficits will be hard for either party as long as unemployment is up -- cutting taxes ( and government revenue) or spending is almost always the answer to the problem no matter who is in charge. President Obama's budget for 2011 won't be passed as is by the Congress, his own party will fight him tooth and nail on the three-year spending freeze, while Republicans won't like it either and will fight the $100 billion jobs bill the budget contains. Many proposals contained in the plan have already been rejected by the Congress and will be again.
 
The spending freeze, which it should be noted is not an across-the-board freeze since spending on education is going up 6 percent, is Obama's way of addressing deficits. So is the plan for a debt commission that is included in the budget. Since the commission isn't statutory and the recommendations don't have to be adopted by Congress it is a figleaf. Congress rejected its own commission, and Democrats seemed prepared to fight the freeze as well. Obama backed them both. We will see who the public blames.


Justin Raimondo, editorial director of Antiwar.com, said:

Let's see: a three-year freeze on discretionary spending unrelated to national security, defense, veterans' affairs and foreign operations -- one that would, in short, exclude the very budget items that cry out for massive cuts. Isn't it funny -- funny odd, not ha-ha funny -- how all one has to do is utter the magical invocation "national security" in order to exempt it from any examination, never mind cuts? What this tells us is that the Empire comes first -- THEN comes America. Truly an inverted standard of value, applicable in Bizarro World, but not in the reality we know.

The Obama spending "freeze" is a fraud, as it would apply only to an eighth of the federal budget -- with annual deficits are expected to be around $600 billion. The so-called "job creation" bill is exempt, so is "infrastructure" (i.e. pyramid-building projects) and state fiscal aid. And, of course, as The Hill points out elsewhere: "The jobs bill, which Obama made a top priority in his State of the Union speech, would be passed outside the annual appropriations process."

So practically everything is exempt from the "freeze," which is none-too-authentic anyway. More flim-flam from the Obama administration.

To answer the question: Yes, this nonsense -- which the voters will see right through -- will hurt the Democrats. More importantly, it will hurt the country.


Hal Lewis, professor of Physics at UC Santa Barbara, said:

There are only two credible explanations for the Obama administration's fiscal policy---to the extent that one can infer it from actions, not words. One is that the American educational system has been failing for decades, and we are now paying the price. The focus on jobs per se, rather than jobs that restore the country's productivity, can only lead to runaway inflation by pouring fruitless money into the economy. Might as well just print money and give people gifts. The road to durable recovery must be paved with a serious effort to restore productivity to the economy, not to redistribute what wealth we have left. It is not jobs that we need, it is productive jobs. Is it possible that the Administration powers-that-be don't know this?

A blacker possibility is that they do know it, and are looking forward to a complete economic collapse, for political reasons I dare not discuss. As one of them said, a crisis enables you to do things of which you would otherwise  be incapable.


Bernie Quigley, Pundits Blog contributor, said:

It will devastate the Obama agenda. The tide has turned on this anachronistic ideology starting last February and sentiment in opposition has grown exponentially the more Obama & Co. bring it forth. Instead of the Change, the Obama administration has become the nostalgico political background against which the change which will rise in the new century will occur. As Fouad Ajami wrote this morning in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama spell is broken.


 Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said:

Of course it won't hurt Democrats in the fall. No one knows how big the budget is or how big the deficit is. Whatever budget gets passed will be a really big number and the deficit will be a really big number. This means that the Republicans and the deficit hawks will be running around yelling about big spending and big deficits regardless of what budget the Democrats passed. (This wouldn't be true if we had decent budget reporting, but we don't.) So, the Dems' alternatives are either passing the big budget or shutting down the government and we know that people don't like it when the government is shut down.


Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women's Forum, said:

It's more business as usual that will hurt Democrats.

It's another bloated budget which will create record deficits — so what else is new?
 
The horrific state of our government's finances is old news. The American people are worried about our mounting debt and its long-term effect on the economy. This budget will do nothing to make them feel better. It's another instance of kicking the can down the road and promising to become fiscally responsible next year.
 
Americans are unlikely to get as worked up about Congress approving the president's budget as they are about major legislation — like the healthcare bill or cap-and-trade. Those who are likely to vote on runaway government spending are already as disgusted as they can be and were unlikely to vote for the majority in November anyway. Therefore this budget may not make things worse for Democrats, but it also isn't going to make their prospects any better.  


John F. McManus, president of The John Birch Society, said:

Let's hope it does. The enormous national debt (unadmitted and admitted) is approximately $100 trillion. The United States is the most indebted nation in all history. The independence of our nation can be lost through debt and this is precisely what some (France's Sarkosy for one) are suggesting. Does anyone in Washington think about the children who, without having a word to say about it, must shoulder this huge burden with their work and maybe their freedom?
 
The solution is not for Congress and the President to DO something. The solution is for them to UNDO a great many departments, bureaus and agencies that are not authorized by the U.S. Constitution. Examples: Education, Energy, HUD, HHS, foreign aid, OSHA, EEOC. I'm sure any student of the Constitution could add many more to this list.


 Richard S. Lindzen, atmospheric physicist and professor at MIT, said:

The budget seems likely to hurt Democrats in November. The relatively small size of the proposed cuts, the delay in implementation, and the restricted areas of application will all contribute to the image of an administration that is not playing straight. The response of congressional Democrats like Pelosi will only add to that image.


Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit said:

Yes. One telling indicator is a growing effort by the remaining Obama partisans to paint Bush as an equivalent big spender, even though the Bush deficits were much smaller than Obama's, and declining thoughout most of his second term. Not that Bush was any prize, but Obama's deficits are of an entirely different magnitude.

Obama's deficits are unsustainable, and obviously so.  To use Al Gore's frog-boiling metaphor, the stove may have been on "simmer" before, but Obama has turned it up to "11" and now the frog is kicking.

Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, said:


Most of the deficit was directly or indirectly inherited from prior years. If that's honestly communicated in the media, then the people who caused the deficit will have problems.

If honestly communicated, then this helps the Democrats.

Seems like the people who complain about this budget are the people who caused it. We need more honesty about that.


Damon N. Spiegel, entrepreneur and writer, said:

Asking if a $1.27 trillion deficit will hurt the democrats is like asking if a Kamikaze will self-destruct upon impact –of course it will! Democratic heedless spending is racing uncontrollably in flames to its near point of impact and ultimate demise.

Healthcare negotiations brilliantly exemplified the Democratic rate of destruction. The American people are emphatically in tuned to back room deals in the tune of billions of dollars that shamelessly robbed them for the benefit of greedily irresponsible officials elected by the people. All the while, President Obama is shoving bank reform down the throats of reluctant free market financial institutions while he is unable to balance the national checkbook. American’s aren’t going to fall for “do as I say, but not as I do” tactics. 

We need to face it: a loose budget is an eminent threat to our national security. Could we imagine only barely being able cover our interest payments? Sounds like a debt recovery infomercial to me. So far, the Democratic rhetoric on fiscal responsibility has gravely misguided the hope of Americans. Americans deserve better than this.