A full 65 days after it was due by law, the president will finally release his budget tomorrow. Early previews suggest it’s a package that few outside of the White House would support. The critical remaining question is whether the president will approach it as a take-it-or-leave-it offer or recognize that finding common ground and making progress is more important than imposing his will on Congress.
We know that the president will propose some savings from our safety net programs in his budget. They will be modest reforms – far short of what is needed to put them on sound fiscal footing or balance the budget. Still, the president acknowledging that something must be done to prevent their looming bankruptcy is a positive development. Republicans have long led on this issue, proposing specific, meaningful reforms to save programs like Medicare and Medicaid, upon which so many Americans rely. We welcome the president to this effort.
While the president’s reforms are inadequate, that doesn’t mean we can’t make progress to help bolster these programs. If both Republicans and the president agree that at least incremental reforms are needed, it should be easy enough to get them done. Right? Well, no. It turns out the president is not willing to do anything unless he can get even higher taxes to fund even higher spending. As a White House official told Roll Call newspaper this week, these savings are on the table “only in the context of a package…that has balance and includes revenues from the wealthiest Americans…”
With the president enacting higher tax rates on upper income Americans just this year, this approach is disappointing and defies common sense. If both parties agree that spending reforms are needed, why must they be held up over unrelated policy on which there is disagreement? Shouldn’t we focus on the areas which overlap? It’s not a novel concept.
In fact, this is an argument the president himself has made numerous times. “When Democrats and Republicans agree on something, it should be pretty easy to get it done,” the president said in one of his weekly addresses last year. “[L]et's at least agree to do what we all agree on. That's what compromise is all about,” he said in another. There is clearly disagreement about the need for further taxes, but as the president told a group gathered at the White House this past July, “We can have that debate, but let's not hold up working on the thing that we already agree on.”
We agree. As the Speaker said last week, “If the president believes these modest entitlement savings are needed to help shore up these programs, there's no reason they should be held hostage for more tax hikes. That’s no way to lead and move the country forward." Tomorrow we’ll find out – finally – whether the president agrees and is willing to live up to his own rhetoric on common ground.