The New York Times.
By law, dating back to 1921, the president of the United States must submit an annual budget request to Congress. On Tuesday, President Obama submitted his eighth and final budget. And like all presidential budgets, it is a statement of values and priorities, a blueprint for turning ideas into policies, a map of where the president wants to lead the country.
This week, even before the president’s budget was released, the Republican chairmen of the budget committees announced they would not even hold hearings with the White House budget director to discuss the proposal.
Their decision is more than a break with tradition. It is a new low in Republican efforts to show disdain for Mr. Obama, which disrespects the presidency and, in the process, suffocates debate and impairs governing.
Mr. Obama’s budget proposes to spend $4 trillion in the 2017 fiscal year (slightly more than for 2016). That total would cover recurring expenses, including Medicare and Social Security, as well as new initiatives to fight terrorism, poverty and climate change, while fostering health, education and environmental protection. If Republicans find those efforts objectionable — as their refusal to even discuss them indicates — they owe it to their constituents and other Americans to say why.
Would they prefer to renege on Social Security benefits? Do they think $11 billion to fight ISIS, as the budget proposes, is too much? Is $4.3 billion to deter Russian aggression against NATO allies a bad idea? Does $19 billion for cybersecurity to protect government records, critical infrastructure and user privacy seem frivolous? And is $1.2 billion to help states pay for safe drinking water or $292 million to send more preschoolers to Head Start really unaffordable?
Republicans have objected that the president’s budget does not do enough to tackle the nation’s borrowing. But according to the White House’s estimate, the proposal would reduce deficits by $2.9 trillion over the next 10 years. That would be sufficient to hold deficits below 3 percent of the economy, a level that is widely considered manageable and even desirable, because a wealthy and growing nation can afford to borrow for projects that would be financially burdensome if paid for all at once.
If Republicans have a plan to pay for the necessary work of government while eliminating deficits entirely, they should present it.
The problem is that Republicans do not have viable alternatives. The budget proposes a $10-a-barrel tax on crude oil to help pay for $320 billion in new spending over 10 years on clean-energy transportation projects. Congressional Republicans, unable to break free of their no-new-taxes-ever stance, have derided the oil tax. But what is their plan to pay for projects to modernize transportation and promote green technology in the absence of a new tax?
The budget would also raise $272 billion over the next decade by closing tax loopholes that let high-income owners of limited-liability companies and other so-called pass-through businesses avoid investment taxes that apply to all other investors. Most of the money would be used to strengthen Medicare’s finances. What is the Republican plan to strengthen Medicare?
The president’s budget request is a detailed and worthy entry in the contest of ideas. Its aim is to move the nation forward. If Republicans had compelling ideas and a similar commitment to progress, they would engage with the proposals in the budget. But they don’t. So they won’t.