The White House Office of Management and Budget did little to help the nation on the road to a brokered budget deal by releasing a report last week that was more scare tactic than serious.
The report, which outlined in detail many of the ways in which the Defense Department would be cut if Congress and the president fail to find a solution to the budget impasse, quickly sank into partisan attacks that make such a solution more difficult to achieve.
Republicans are to blame for wanting to cut domestic programs while protecting the rich from higher tax rates, it said. White House press secretary Jay Carney carried that theme to the media, talking about "the adamant refusal of Republicans to accept the fundamental principle that we ought to deal with our fiscal challenges in a balanced way."
"Balanced way" in this case means "our way." As long as both sides in this debate keep casting blame on each other, they will continue to wrestle ever closer to the fiscal cliff.
New Year's Day is looming as a day in which a number of potentially damaging economic events could take place, absent a compromise. The Bush-era tax cuts would expire, increasing taxes for all Americans. The temporary cut in payroll taxes also would expire, as would certain business tax breaks. Most ominously, from the White House's point of view, a series of across-the-board budget cuts, known as sequestration, would take effect.
This was part of a deal Republicans and Democrats struck, setting up automatic cuts as an incentive to compromise on a larger, more constructive budget deal. The idea was that both sides would view sequestration as so undesirable they would work together in good faith.
It didn't work. However, it did serve to underscore the seriousness of the economic troubles facing the United States.
The White House report outlines what the cuts would do to the nation's defense forces, slashing 9 percent from most Pentagon budgets. Domestic programs would be cut by about 8 percent — except for the three big entitlements, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. They would remain mostly intact.
The hard truth is that both sequestration and large cuts to those entitlements would be necessary in order to keep the United States from triggering a debt crisis. Otherwise, the entitlement would continue to grow larger than tax revenues can handle.
It is possible for the two sides to compromise on a deal that would combine reforms with revenue enhancements. Thoughtful cuts always are better than automatic cuts that don't distinguish among needs.
But both sides continue to act as if cutting a little here or raising a little money there, all within the framework of their own ideologies, can fix the budget.
That's a disservice to the American people, and the White House report simply perpetuates the problem.
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