The Deficit Tightrope


It is an immutable law of politics that politicians hate budget deficits, but even more than that they hate cutting pet programs and those that benefit their own constituents. In unveiling his $3.8 trillion budget, which includes both new spending to spur job growth and cuts aimed at deficit reduction, President Barack Obama faces a particularly unenviable task.

The cumulative costs of two ongoing wars, a worldwide fight against terrorism and the astronomical price tag of bailouts that may have saved the nation from another Great Depression, combined with huge benefits programs that cannot be cut without hurting the nation’s most vulnerable, have tilted the government’s balance sheets in ways that will be painful and difficult to remedy.

In the short term, big deficits may be necessary to spur job growth; that’s reflected in the budget outline’s call for $282 billion in “temporary recovery measures.” But over time the snowballing impact of trillion-dollar deficits will burden our children and grandchildren with crippling debt and further undercut America’s leadership role in the world.

Obama’s proposed three-year domestic spending freeze is meant as a signal that this administration means business — but it would be a mistake to see cuts in “discretionary spending,” a relatively small chunk of the federal budget, as a panacea.

In this dangerous age, it is unwise to cut defense and security spending, but the president has an obligation to do everything possible to ensure that the billions appropriated for those priorities are spent wisely.

Millions of Americans, including many in our own community, continue to struggle in the face of the ongoing recession and the incomplete, jobless recovery. Program cuts should not come at the expense of those in need. That is why the proposed budget’s cut in spending for new Section 202 senior housing projects, which serves many in our own community, is a mistake.

So are proposed cuts in the deductibility of charitable contributions that threaten to hurt the very organizations that are doing the most to help those in need.

Congress will now slice and dice the budget outline, with election-year politics a big wild card. We hope lawmakers and the administration will not lose sight of some key priorities — including the need to keep the nation safe and the need to protect the rising number of victims of an uncertain economy.