The Obama administration officially released its budget for fiscal year 2013 yesterday. As much as I like writing about policy, I frankly lack any desire to write about the substance of this budget proposal.
The simple fact is that the President’s budget is basically a long, vaguely political document that is effectively meaningless. After a few days of news stories about individual provisions and the Republicans’ perfunctory cries of “socialism,” “tax and spend liberalism” or “accounting gimmicks,” this budget will be quickly forgotten. It is basically dead on arrival in Congress, another package of ideas destined to go nowhere.
The fact that Republicans control the House of Representatives and have taken an uncompromising stance makes this particular budget especially meaningless. But even back when Obama had some of the largest Democratic Congressional majorities in modern history, his budgets didn’t really mean much.
One of the biggest financial aspects of this budget, as well as Obama’s previous budgets and Obama’s political campaign, is ending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and closing the carried interest loophole. Yet Obama and the Democrats made almost no effort to quickly deal with this big aspect of Obama’s budget plans during all of 2009 or 2010. Even when the Bush tax cuts were about to expire and Obama was forced to confront the issue, he broke his promise by extending them.
Of course there was always some excuse for not taking care of the huge tax issue, like the need to get 60 votes in the Senate or not wanting to risk letting the tax cuts on the middle class expire, but they were mostly face saving nonsense. These tax components could have been put in a reconciliation bill and taken care of in a day if the Democrats wanted. If Democrats had really wanted to, they could have used their majorities to pass almost all of Obama’s campaign platform into law in 2009.
As a result I feel little desire to evaluate the merits of proposals that the White House may never intend or attempt to advance or give Obama praise for restating the same tired old unfulfilled promises on taxes. Maybe some can glean some indirect insight into Obama’s true thinking from the budget, like a shaman reading the future in the entrails of oracle sacrifice, but it seems like a waste of effort. Too many broken and purposely unfulfilled promises have me concluding I should not bother judging until there are concrete actions.
I wish it weren’t this way. I would personally love it if these budgets really did matter. I think it would be great if the American people knew that if they gave Democrats a victory in the 2012 election, that the Democrats would quickly implement Obama’s whole budget plan. One of the best things that I think could happen to our democracy is if it we considered it a huge scandal if a party didn’t quickly implement its platform if it won full control.
Sadly this basic democratic accountability isn’t how our system works. We are taught that it is naive to even expect politicians to do what they said they would, told there is always some insane rule or tradition that magically prevents the party that won from governing like it promised.