Published for The Hill, December 20, 2012

With the media reporting various offers and counteroffers regarding the so-called “fiscal cliff,” one question that no one seems to be asking is what will happen to overall federal spending during the president’s second term. During President Obama’s first term, federal spending increased an extraordinary 20 percent, rising from just under $3 trillion during President Bush’s last year to $3.6 trillion this year. In the budget that President Obama submitted to Congress last February, he proposed to further increase spending for 2013 to $3.8 trillion. The House promptly rejected the president’s proposal by 414-0. Even the Democrat-controlled Senate then rejected that by 99-0 last May. With President Obama now reelected and demanding large tax increases, it is time to ask whether the president is prepared to roll back any of the spending hikes of his first term, to a level below $3.6 trillion.

So far the administration and Congress both seem focused only on the annual deficits for the next 10 years, and guesses about various future scenarios about what might happen by 2023. But the most meaningful thing for this president and this Congress are the next four years — because those are the only budgets they can actually control.

For the next four years, will federal spending decrease at all from the president’s first-term level of $3.6 trillion? That is the right question that members of Congress, the media and the public should be asking. Responsible public officials and the press should give the president the opportunity to say whether he will reduce spending below the total level of his first term, and how. If his plan won’t reduce spending from $3.6 trillion, then it isn’t a cut at all. Indeed, if he doesn’t reduce spending below $3.6 trillion, then the massive spending hike and government expansion of his first term will become effectively permanent.

Full post here

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