Like many Democrats, President Obama greeted last December’s budget deal the way a hungry child greets a carrot stick: It wasn’t what he wanted, but it was acceptable under the circumstances.
“This agreement doesn’t include everything I’d like, and I know many Republicans feel the same way,” Obama said Dec. 10. “That’s the nature of compromise. But it’s a good sign that Democrats and Republicans in Congress were able to come together and break the cycle of shortsighted, crisis-driven decision-making to get this done.”
But hey, that was 2013. On Tuesday, Obama proposed to spend $56 billion more in fiscal 2015 (which starts Oct. 1) than the December deal allows — half on defense programs, half on everything else. His budget proposal also would eliminate the sequester spending cuts imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act in the following six years.
True, Obama presented the extra spending as a discrete proposal — the Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative — riding on top of a spending plan that stayed within the limits of the December deal. Still, the message was unmistakable: The deal was more of a starting point for negotiations than a fait accompli.
The irony here is that Democrats screamed like stuck pigs when House Republicans sought in 2012 to shift money into defense programs from non-defense programs in violation of the law’s sequester caps, which were supposed to fall equally hard on both categories. They complained again in 2013 when House Republicans pushed through defense spending bills that violated the caps. In fact, Obama threatened to veto those bills because they’d squeeze dollars out of non-defense programs.
So, if the spending levels set in the 2011 deal were sacrosanct, why aren’t the ones in the 2013 deal?
Obama may have been pandering to Democrats who would much rather raise the spending caps than make hard decisions about how to prioritize. But he appears to have invited Republicans to respond in kind, treating the spending levels in the deal as a ceiling, not a floor.