Obama's 2013 Budget: Bad Deficit Reduction, Good Politics

You can love President Obama's budget, or you can hate it, but one thing is for certain: It is not a terribly serious attempt at long-term deficit reduction. It raises taxes on a fraction of the population without reforming the tax code. It creates new stimulus programs without significantly curbing entitlements. It pays for new infrastructure projects with "savings from the Iraq war," which is a clever bit of parallel-universe budgeting, like me paying for a new suit with "savings from not going to Atlantic City tomorrow."

I've heard some people make the argument that, compared to the GOP presidential candidates, Obama's budget is strong on the deficit. Okay. I'm great at basketball, compared to a piece of spinach. Relative judgments aren't always the most illuminating.

Anyway, a strictly policy analysis of the president's budget misses the point. Nobody takes White House budgets seriously as roadmaps to a real budget. One consequence of this is that the White House doesn't have to write a budget that will pass. It only has to write a budget it can defend. And the White House has done that.

By sparing entitlements and sticking the burden of deficit reduction disproportionately on the armed forces and the rich, the White House has built a budget that it can sell to the public. When asked to identify the most important source of our deficits in a recent National Journal poll, 3 percent named senior entitlements, 24 percent picked defense spending, and 46 percent picked "wealthy Americans don't pay enough in taxes." The White House appears to be winning the deficit argument without getting too serious about the deficit. Neat trick!

Infographic












 

So yes, this budget is a political document. But if this poll is any indication, Josh Green sums up aptly, "it's pretty good politics."


Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Politics

Just In