Last Leg for a Lame Duck
The last two years of a presidency traditionally constitute a period of relative insignificance for the Executive of the United States. Often this is the result of major Congressional losses by the President’s political party, coupled with a generally low rating of approval from a public growing weary of seeing the same face in charge for the better part of a decade. Still, those Presidents that have shown willingness to accomplish responsible governance have occasionally found some silver lining in their situations. President Clinton managed to negotiate budgets that produced surpluses through his last few years, and President Reagan successfully managed to achieve reform in the areas of defense, the tax code, as well as immigration. Both of these were in the face of a political situation where their respective parties did not control Congress.
As President Obama now faces a Republican Party that controls both the House and the Senate, he must decide whether to achieve a positive legacy, or continue down the path of Washington gridlock. If his recent budget proposal is any indication, then he has elected to embrace the status of a lame duck Presidency. The President’s 2015 budget, announced last week, has an astounding $3.9 trillion price tag. Beyond legally required spending, there are also major increases in discretionary spending for defense, education, and health programs. This bill is of course dead on arrival, and Republican leaders in Congress have blasted the budget for its lack of seriousness, something that is all too apparent.
The President’s own administration has admitted the budget plan is simply a “wish list” for what he would like to accomplish in his ideal world. In other words, this is merely an attempt to appease the Democratic Party’s base with unrealistic proposals, and hope they’ll take it at face value. Among these are President Obama’s $60 billion plan to provide free community college, a seemingly pointless proposal when one remembers that, for low-income students, community college is already effectively free. Increases in defense spending include extra production of the F-35 multirole fighter, which has had notorious problems with doubling of costs, and technical issues all around. What’s more, President Obama’s plan is counting on Americans forgetting their concerns about the national debt. The budget calls for an additional $1 trillion in taxes, mostly on the wealthy, but uses this money to primarily pay for these new spending proposals. This never balances out, and simply means an endless, albeit smaller, stream of yearly deficits in the hundreds of billions of dollars. All of this adding onto an already massive $18 trillion debt with no reasonable plan for repayment.
This new budget plan is seemingly the preview of what’s to come in the final years of Obama’s presidency; shallow proposals, and non-existent governance. Instead of attempting to suggest a serious plan to answer the country’s fiscal woes, we’re given a list of substance-free proposals meant to give the illusion of an administration promoting big ideas. A government that prefers to offer up political pandering instead of real solutions, a symptom all too common in Washington, ensures that the United States will never dig itself out of its insolvency. If President Obama doesn’t approach the negotiating table in good faith when the Congress produces its own budget plan with the goal of governing, then he will only find himself in the position of a lame duck in the last leg of his presidency.