The White House is not blameless in this area; the US can't afford the President's Medicare prescription drug program, and war costs ought to be counted as part of the unified budget. But the alleged manipulation of deficit projections is overstated:
Democratic leaders Friday urged President Bush to work with them to adopt "fiscally responsible policies" that would include "difficult choices and shared sacrifices."
In a letter to the White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), plus Budget Committee chairmen Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.) left no doubt that they view Bush's policies as the reason for a looming fiscal crisis.
But the Democrats strike a conciliatory note and say they are "prepared to work with you to make the tough choices needed to address our fiscal challenges."
They argue that Bush, as president, has "a unique capacity to communicate with the public, and persuade Americans of the need for these difficult choices."
To embark on a bipartisan course to fiscal responsibility, the Democrats urge Bush to submit a budget that accounts federal costs realistically, including spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In addition, they ask that the White House "realistically project short-term and long-term deficits." Democrats noted that a "clear perception exists that for years, administration budgets have both overstated current year budget projections - to allow claims of 'progress' later in the year - and understated long-term deficits, to avoid the need for hard choices."
Lastly, the Democratic leaders ask for specificity in the budget and a full accounting of "short and long-term consequences" of Bush's fiscal policies.
"Clearly, Democrats and Republicans will disagree about particular priorities, and we will need to negotiate our differences in deciding how to allocate scarce resources," they conclude. "But, as a first step, we all should be able to agree on these basic principles of fiscal responsibility."
More importantly, it was the Congressional Democrats who made it a point to sabotage the long-term financial outlook for the federal government - and entitlement programs in particular - by demagoguing first on prescription drugs, and then on Social Security reform. If the long-term budgetary outlook is a house on fire, then Congressional Democrats are the chief arsonists. When the President offered his plan for private investment accounts in Social Security, they rejected it - and further turned their back on President Clinton's prior proposal to initiate government-directed investments in the private sector. They offered no plan of their own, but instead used entitlement reform as a political issue to damage the President.
Now they come back and chide the President for not putting out the fire?
As I have said before, Democrats claim to be defenders of Social Security and Medicare. But now that they are in power and there is a sitting President with nothing (politically) to lose from backing entitlement reform, where is their plan?
Conventional political wisdom holds than entitlement reform must take place in a President's lame duck term - and the next one of those is at least 8 years away. When that time comes around, the challenge will be much larger than it is today, and the solutions will be significantly more politically painful than today.
Why aren't the Democratic 'defenders' of entitlement programs trying to fix the programs now?