On Budget Day, A Self-Parody Storm Strikes Washington

February 14, 2011 7:08 a.m.

It’s not budget season in Washington if Republicans and Democrats aren’t upping the ante on imperious bromides about the deficit, and reporters aren’t nudging those politicians toward the only acceptable solution to those budgetary woes: destroying entitlements.

Here’s a fun exchange on CNN this morning that neatly encapsulates that culture. It starts with Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) — the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee — attacking President Obama’s budget proposal for not reducing the deficit by more than $1 trillion over 10 years. From there, Sessions dodges the expected questions about why his party doesn’t take the first swing of the ax at Social Security. And after clumsily passing the buck back to Obama, Sessions admits that $1 trillion is a pretty good start … when Republicans propose it!“A one trillion reduction is insignificant,” Sessions insists. “This is nowhere near what’s necessary to avoid the fiscal nightmare that this nation is facing. … It doesn’t touch any of the entitlements, it only has some reductions in the discretionary accounts.”

That’s a slow ball, right over the center of the plate if your job is to reinforce conventional wisdom, and the anchor, Kiran Chetry, knocks it out of the park. “At what point does everybody get together and just say, ‘Alright, it’s time to tackle these bigger issues: Raising the Social Security retirement age. Medicare doesn’t just go to everybody.’ When is that gonna be tackled.”

But, Sessions responds, on tough issues over which Congress has the ultimate say, it’s the President’s job to take all the political risk!

“We’ve heard nothing from our chief executive, the President of the United States,” he said.

To Chetry’s credit, she reminds Sessions that Republican leaders are mostly silent on this issue, even though they control half of Congress. But once again, the only options on the table are ones that make it harder for regular people to get by.

“Have we heard a lot of Republican leaders out there saying exactly what they would do when it comes to this,” she asks. “I mean is anybody coming out and introducing a bill that raises the retirement age before you can collect your Social Security income?”

Nope — Obama must go first. “None of this will ever pass if the President is not supporting it,” Sessions added. “He should be helping us. He should be really leading. He’s the leader. He asked for the job to be President.”

So what is leadership? Apparently it’s House Republicans, who recently proposed a bit under $100 billion in discretionary spending cuts this year. Multiply this by 10 and you approach $1 trillion. That’s leadership! Just not when Obama does it.

“Even the $100 billion house proposal in reducing spending will amount to $1 trillion,” Sessions said. “And that’s a step!”

Late update: Sen. Sessions staff emails to note that a 10 year budget framework is a better vehicle for addressing entitlements than a short-term CR. Whether you want to cut entitlements or enhance them and raise taxes, the President’s plan falls short. For instance, the deficit commission’s report, which most Republicans oppose, would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion. It’s a fair point.

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