While health care reform is moved to the back burner, the nation’s latest deficit is estimated at $1.3 trillion. These are the latest results to come out of an increasingly fractured nation’s capital.
Dysfunction in Washington has a price tag, and you can see it in the latest projections of the federal deficit.
The current budget deficit has on it the fingerprints of both parties. An analysis of its component parts by The New York Times, using Congressional Budget Office data, traces the swing from a projected $850 billion surplus in 2000 to a record-setting $1.3 trillion deficit today. It attributes $673 billion to Bush-era decisions — tax cuts, the war in Iraq and the Medicare prescription drug program among them — and $232 billion to commitments, like the Iraq war and the fix to the Alternative Minimum Tax, that continue through the Obama administration.
The bank and automaker bailouts added $185 billion to the deficit, the stimulus bill $145 billion, and other Obama programs $56 billion. Two recessions in the last decade made up the deficit difference.
But while both Republicans and Democrats talk about the need for serious action to rein in spending, they have demonstrated no desire to work together to do so.
Consider the rising cost of health care. It’s the fastest-growing part of the budget and a leading contributor to the deficit. But a Senate long paralyzed by the filibuster rule is now in the process of taking off the table a health care reform bill that is projected to reduce the deficit by more than $100 billion.
In the 1990s, Congress enacted “pay-as-you-go,” a system in which every new spending program had to be paid for, either through new revenues or reduced spending elsewhere. Those rules lapsed during the Bush administration. Last month, the Senate voted, 60-40, to bring them back, with not a single Republican voting in favor. With Scott Brown since replacing Sen. Paul Kirk, even that basic pillar of fiscal responsibility might not have survived today.
The last time Congress made significant progress reforming entitlements was in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a Democrat, agreed to accept the recommendations of a bipartisan commission, which included new taxes and raised the retirement age. But a bipartisan proposal to create a similar commission failed in the Senate last week, after five Republican senators who had co-sponsored the bill switched positions to vote against it.
The situation in Congress is worse than partisan gridlock. It is an assumption in the political classes that the way to win is to make sure the other side fails. Unless that dynamic changes, the nation’s most pressing problems will never be addressed.
If the goal in Washington is for one side to fail, we will all continue to lose.