At the moment that President Obama began speaking last night, I recorded the tally on the National Debt Clock. It was 14 trillion, 74 billion, 755 million dollars. (The thousands speed by too quickly to register.) The moment that the president ceased speaking, I checked again: 14 trillion, 74 billion, 853 million dollars. So during the president’s speech, the national debt rose by $98 million.
Yet President Obama offered no serious proposals for reducing spending or debt. To the contrary, he talked about new spending he’d like to see. He offered only the occasional and unserious rhetorical nod to fiscal prudence: Having raised non-defense domestic discretionary spending by 24 percent on his watch, and by 84 percent when including his “stimulus,” he proposed to freeze it there — at that new, much higher, rate. That’s not exactly how you make a dent in a $14 trillion shortfall.
Even the Washington Post editorial board (under the headline “A disappointing State of the Union address”) writes:
President Obama entered office promising to be a different kind of politician — one who would speak honestly with the American people about the hard choices they face and would help make those hard calls. Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address would have been the moment to make good on that promise. He disappointed.
The Post continues, “Maybe some members of Congress will display the courage the president has lacked. Maybe Mr. Obama, in the budget he proposes next month, will grapple more realistically with the hard choices than he did Tuesday night. But even if he does, how can he expect public support if he hasn’t made the case? From the man who promised to change Washington, it seemed all too drearily familiar.”
It’s drearily familiar, indeed. If there are two consistent themes of the Obama presidency, they are these: His talk and his actions too often bear little resemblance to one another; and his enthusiasm for spending other people’s money continues unabated.
In fact, President Obama’s deficits have outpaced those of President Bush by more than $1 trillion a year — a truly staggering figure, given that President Bush was hardly a pinchpenny. Obama blames the economy, but his average deficit has outpaced the average deficit during the Great Depression by more than ten-to-one in inflation-adjusted dollars, and by more than three-to-one even as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, in inflation-adjusted dollars (though not as a percentage of GDP), Obama’s deficits have even exceeded — doubled! — the highest deficit during World War II. Such seemingly impossible tallies require serious dedication to the spending arts.
Moreover, none of these deficit-spending figures take into account the colossal spending that would occur under ObamaCare, if it isn’t repealed. At a time when we are $14 trillion in debt, ObamaCare would raise taxes, raid from (already unsustainable) Medicare, and usher in $2 trillion in new spending in its real first decade (from 2014 to 2023) alone.
In contrast, in the Republican response, Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) offered a straightforward appraisal of where we’re at, and what we need to do about it. And Ryan’s message didn’t stop at spending alone but also made the broader case for upholding our nation’s ideals. As Ryan succinctly put it, “We believe, as our Founders did, that the pursuit of happiness depends on individual liberty, and individual liberty requires limited government.”
As chairman of the House Budget Committee, Ryan will be the Republicans’ point man during the upcoming budget battles with President Obama. It will be refreshing to have microphones put in front of an articulate Republican who actually knows how to make the case for policies that promote fiscal responsibility and prosperity — which, as the Post notes, also involves making the case for change.
Ultimately, that change should include a constitutional limit on federal spending, in the form of a Limited Government Amendment. By providing a long-overdue check on Congress’s power to spend, while also permitting sufficient flexibility to satisfy what Hamilton called the full “extent and variety of national exigencies,” such an amendment would re-limit government, reestablish fiscal responsibility, and — over time — profoundly reduce federal spending as a percentage of GDP.
With the Limited Government Amendment in effect, perhaps one day in the not-so-distant future the national debt will decline by $98 million during the State of the Union address.