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Is Barack Obama a Courageous Deficit Hawk?

Steve Steckler thinks so, saying at The Arena:

[K]udos to Obama for so boldly bring Medicare (and Social Security) into the conversation regarding fiscal discipline. The one big hope I have for Obama — a hopefulness encouraged by his selection of economic advisors — is that his enormous popularity, especially among liberals and labor/elderly constituencies that normally block reform — will give him enough confidence that he can tackle the country’s most politically intractable problems without threatening his re-election in 2012.

Naturally, I disagree; as I wrote at The Arena, I find it ironic that Mr. Steckler or anybody else can pair the terms “Obama” and “fiscal discipline” with a straight face. Yesterday, president-elect Obama — a man ascending to the presidency of a nation that has never once posted a trillion dollar deficit — almost boastfully promised “trillion-dollar deficits for years to come” once he takes office.

This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to the promise Mr. Obama made in the second presidential debate when he said, “What I’ve proposed, you’ll hear Sen. McCain say, well, he’s proposing a whole bunch of new spending, but actually I’m cutting more than I’m spending so that it will be a net spending cut.”

It is no surprise, of course, that Mr. Obama’s promise to decrease the deficit — not to more than double its current record level – was yet another of his positions that had an unannounced expiration date.

Pursuant to Mr. Steckler’s “kudos” to Mr. Obama for the courage he showed in broaching the topics of Medicare and Social Security, the current unfunded liability of those programs is $101.7 trillion. To put that in perspective, the entire U.S. economy is a mere $14 trillion.

$52 trillion is already pledged to people who have paid into the system and thus earned these benefits (both must be taken, as federal law currently – and absurdly – prevents social security enrollees from declining Medicare benefits), meaning a massive overhaul of the benefit, payment, and regulatory system must be undertaken now in order to avoid an economic catastrophe that will make the current meltdown seem insignificant in comparison.

Does Obama have the courage to tell the tens of millions of Americans who have paid into the Medicare and Social Security systems that their benefits will be severely cut in order to maintain even a semblance of solvency in the federal treasury? And, in that unlikely event, will a Congress that is far more interested in gaining reelection than in solving future problems provide a single ounce of assistance?

That is a highly dubious proposition. However, I will be happy to sit back and watch Mr. Obama’s actions before judging him on Medicare and Social Security (as well as on deficit spending). In exchange, simply do me the favor of not asking that I judge his words and intentions alone, rather than evaluating him by his actions and results.

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