Knowles: The debt is too damn high

President Obama’s refusal to address entitlement reform, unprecedented national debt and record federal deficits could well cost him his once-loyal youth vote in next year’s presidential election. In 2008, an estimated 24 million young voters turned out to support Obama — between 2.2 and 2.4 million more than came out to vote for Senator John Kerry in 2004. Voters between the ages of 18 and 29 preferred Obama to Senator John McCain by 38 percent. But by the midterm elections of 2010, Obama’s support among America’s youth began to dwindle. An Associated Press/mtvU poll shortly after the midterms showed that the president’s 60 percent approval rating on college campuses had dropped by 16 percent; the midterms proved the greatest repudiation of a newly elected American president since 1922.

The Wall Street Journal described Obama’s 2012 budget proposal as “the Cee Lo Green Budget.” While the editorial board seems to have chosen this title for the singer’s repeated and profane refrain — rewritten for radio as “forget you” — the message of the song characterizes the president’s budget in a number of other, important ways. The “change” in President Obama’s “pocket wasn’t enough” after two years of massive spending and failed jobs programs, and so he has felt compelled to “borrow.” A lot. This strategy threatens the U.S. economy, national security, and the future our generation will inherit.

The Obama administration predicts that the national debt will exceed $15 trillion by the end of the year. This means that the debt now equals the entire U.S. economy. And while the president maintains that he “will not be adding more to the national debt,” his budget proposes borrowing $1.645 trillion to account for the 2012 federal deficit and an additional $7.2 trillion through 2021. Just in case you lost count: that will bring the debt up to $26.3 trillion within 10 years.

These proposed borrowing figures come after three years of historic deficits that have added nearly $4.5 trillion to our national debt. But even these official numbers are problematic. The Obama administration has optimistically assumed that the economy will grow by 4 percent in 2012 and by 4.5 percent in 2013. Most private and governmental estimates fall between 3 and 3.5 percent.

Even the Democrats are running scared. While testifying before the Senate Budget Committee, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner admitted that the nation’s deficits are “too high, unsustainable, and — left unaddressed — these deficits will hurt economic growth and make us weaker as a nation.” Erskine Bowles, Democratic co-chairman of President Obama’s own deficit committee, echoed Geithner’s sentiments with less political nuance and perhaps more urgency. The budget, he concluded, goes “nowhere near where they will have to go to resolve our fiscal nightmare.”

While testifying before the House Budget Committee, Geithner provided a direct and chilling breakdown of President Obama’s budget plan. “With the president’s plan,” he explained, “even if Congress were to enact it, even if Congress were to hold to it, we would still be left with … unsustainable obligations over time.” Before concluding his testimony, however, the Treasury Secretary coyly asked his Republican interrogators the question which might be said to sum up the entire budget: “What’s the alternative plan?”

But President Obama’s budget proposal is not a plan at all. It is an abdication of a weak president’s responsibilities for the sake of political convenience. The budget proposes paltry, cynical spending cuts — 95 percent of which will occur after President Obama’s first term in the White House — and ignores entitlement reform for programs like Social Security and Medicare, which themselves pose the greatest threat to the future of the U.S. economy. The budget illustrates that President Obama’s call for “winning the future” will result in nothing more than proposals for winning re-election through a strategy of generational theft.

Mr. Obama’s plan to avoid the third-rail of American politics seems ill advised. In the wings, governors Mitch Daniels, Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie are speaking openly about entitlement reform and enjoying high favorability ratings. If President Obama does not follow suit and accept the responsibilities of the American presidency, somebody else may.

Michael Knowles is a junior in Davenport College and the political director for Students for Mitch Daniels.

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