President punts on entitlement reform

The budget is the clearest signal yet that Congress should expect no support from the White House in tackling the national debt. The 2012 budget was Obama's opportunity to provide leadership and show he is serious about addressing the most dire debt crisis in our history.

Instead, the president offered a budget that proposes $8.7 trillion in new spending, $1.6 trillion in new taxes and $13 trillion in new debt.

With numbers like that, the budget sounds more like a summary of the current crisis than a goal for the future. The budget calls for savings of only about $1 trillion over 10 years, while our deficit for 2011 alone is $1.5 trillion. The president's signature savings measure — the vaunted five-year federal spending freeze — is symptomatic of a larger problem. Maintaining spending at current record-high, inflated levels is not progress any more than is attempting to pay down the deficit through tax increases. Neither proposal does anything to reverse the disastrous upward trajectory of government spending. To do that, we need spending cuts — not spending freezes and not tax hikes.

Completely absent from the proposal is any leadership on entitlement reform. We all know that mandatory spending on entitlement programs is the biggest threat to future prosperity. Entitlements constitute the majority of all spending and will equal 100 percent of revenues as soon as 2045. Obama convened a debt commission that produced tough but viable solutions to save entitlements from bankruptcy, but these policies are conspicuously absent from the budget proposal.

With debt at $14 trillion, it's going to take a lot more than a few cosmetic spending cuts to dig ourselves out of the hole we're in. The severity of our fiscal challenges requires both parties to come together and make tough choices. The midterm elections sent the message that, for the first time in a long time, deep spending cuts are not a political liability. The American people expect decisive action.

However, Obama seems not to have gotten the memo — either from voters or from economists who are warning in ever more ominous terms that trillion-dollar deficits are unsustainable. Obama's proposal bears all the hallmarks of an election-year budget — heavy on empty promises but light on substance and hard decisions.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are forging ahead, bringing $100 billion in spending cuts to the floor this week — and that's just for the remaining 7 months of fiscal year 2011. Under the leadership of Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the 2012 budget resolution we offer in April will confront — not compound — our fiscal challenges. With no meaningful contribution from the White House, we will be starting from scratch.

The magnitude of this crisis requires strong leadership, bold action and bipartisan cooperation. The president's budget offered none of these. Describing this budget as a punt is generous — frankly, the president didn't even take the field.

Cole is a member of the Budget and Appropriations committees.