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In our opinion: An inadequate budget plan

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 15 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

By now, that proverbial can politicians keep kicking down the road must be getting awfully dented. Soon it won't roll any more. When that happens, politicians no longer will be able to avoid tough budget decisions because the nation's economy will be collapsing.

Until then, Americans must deal with more proposals such as President Barack Obama's $3.73 trillion budget, unveiled Monday, which attempts to kick the can of responsibility so far down the road it actually increases budget deficits under the murky promise that this is the only way to successfully reduce them in years to come.

We doubt many of the voters who overturned leadership in the House and several seats in the Senate last November are very impressed; neither are we.

While it's true that, in the knee-jerk world of 21st century politics, Obama could have expected Republican opposition to just about any sort of budget he proposed, this one is not even close to a serious attempt at reducing budget deficits and setting a course for long-term prosperity. The president's own deficit-reduction committee spelled it out best. Three massive entitlement programs — Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security — now suck up virtually all federal tax revenues. Any long-term plan to fix the budget must seriously cut and reform each of these.

Instead, Obama's plan would leave those three programs to continue expanding on their own, like over-yeasted bread dough in the tight oven of some old situation comedy. Except, of course, that this isn't remotely funny.

The president's budget does contain cuts. It would end or reduce more than 200 programs, such as Community Development Block Grants and a program that helps poor people pay their winter heating bills. It would raise taxes by reducing the amount that wealthy people can deduct for charitable donations, thus providing a disincentive to give to needy organizations, which will serve only to increase the burden on governments.

It also contains expensive government subsidies to construct high-speed rail projects consumers neither demand nor are likely to ride, and to fill the roads with electric cars whose effect on the environment would be minimal compared to the tax-funded expenditure.

He does all this while increasing the proposed budget deficit to a record $1.65 trillion, or 10.8 percent of the total economy. The United States is floating ever closer toward the waterfall of disaster, and the president has proposed an awfully tiny oar to paddle to safety.

To be fair, however, Republicans have yet to articulate a serious budget proposal, either. GOP leaders say they are going to unveil their plan in April. Given Republican control of the House, Americans have little reason to fear that Obama's budget will become law. However, they have much to fear as to whether Republican leaders will propose the kinds of meaningful and painful reforms the nation needs.

Politicians of all stripes find that sort of courage rare. The can may have a few kicks left in it yet.

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