However much I regularly enjoy Liz Peek’s cogent writings, I disagree with her recent effort to blame President Obama for the current fiscal impasse in Washington that has put the federal government at the precipice of a federal default. Here’s why:
First, Peek says Obama didn’t meet his legal requirement to propose a budget in early February, reasoning that what he proposed wasn’t a real budget because the Senate voted it down 97-0. One thing has nothing to do with the other. He proposed a real budget – the same in size and excruciating detail as those of his predecessors of both parties – and it’s silly to suggest otherwise. That Congress did not enact it in full is neither relevant nor surprising. Congress never rubber-stamps a president’s budget. In recent decades, in fact, Congresses of both parties have routinely labeled presidential budgets “dead on arrival.” Congress always adjusts a president’s discretionary spending proposals through the appropriations process and his tax and entitlement proposals through the authorizing process.
Second, Peek says Obama was late to express interest in deficit reduction and, as a result, budget negotiations are now bumping up against the August 2 deadline for raising the debt limit and avoiding a default. But, nobody forced congressional Republicans, in particular, to insist on attaching major deficit reduction to the debt limit. Frankly, the president and Congress should pass a “clean” debt limit increase and, separately, enact major deficit reduction. The president asked for a clean bill, but Congress refused to entertain the idea. Those who insist on holding a debt limit increase hostage to any change in fiscal policy, or any other policy for that matter, are choosing to play with fire.
I share Peek’s concern about our fiscal situation and the absolute necessity for the White House and Congress to address it. I do not, however, share her assessment that Congress had to delay a debt limit increase to do so, nor her conclusion that congressional rejection of Obama’s budget means he violated the budget act.
Lawrence J. Haas is former Communications Director to Vice President Gore and, before that, to the White House Office of Management and Budget. He's now a public affairs consultant who writes widely about foreign and domestic affairs, including fiscal policy.
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