— President-elect Barack Obama, Jan. 15, 2009, to the Washington Post editorial board on his commitment to reform Medicare, which he called “unsustainable,” and Social Security.
Four years later, President Obama has a golden chance to begin keeping that commitment. Reform of entitlement programs headed for insolvency is, as he said even before taking office, a must. The current dispute on how to avoid a “fiscal cliff” less than four weeks nigh should yield at least the parameters of that reform.
Unfortunately the White House, in its opening gambit to congressional Republicans, appears oblivious to the president’s warnings about these programs. Last Wednesday, in an editorial titled “Democrats, your turn — Commit to spending cuts,” we urged Team Obama to acknowledge that the growth in domestic spending and entitlements has to diminish. House Speaker John Boehner had violated one of the most sacrosanct Republican principles — opposition to tax hikes — by offering to include new revenue in a cliff-averse deal. We urged Democrats to show similar courage.
But the president’s reaction, delivered by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, is to cut total spending by a meager $400 million over 10 years while raising a net $1.6 trillion in new taxes. Obama also proposes tens of billions in spending on stimulus projects and continuance of long-term unemployment insurance and the supposedly temporary payroll tax cut.