Budget reporter Jackie Calmes' lead story Wednesday, "Party Gridlock Feeds New Fear Of A Debt Crisis - Arising Fiscal Alarm - Obama Convenes Panel to Find Answers as Positions Harden." Following her usual pattern, Calmes managed to blame Bush and Republicans instead of the man who has been president for over a year. Calmes also repeated popular Democrat-friendly talking points, calling the left-leaning retiring Sen. Evan Bayh a "centrist" and claiming his retirement had to do with the "dysfunctional Congress," as opposed to dimming Democratic prospects for the 2010 election.
Senator Evan Bayh's comments this week about a dysfunctional Congress reflected a complaint being directed at Washington with increasing frequency, and there is broad agreement among critics about Exhibit A: The unwillingness of the two parties to compromise to control a national debt that is rising to dangerous heights.
After decades of warnings that budgetary profligacy, escalating health care costs and an aging population would lead to a day of fiscal reckoning, economists and the nation's foreign creditors say that moment is approaching faster than expected, hastened by a deep recession that cost trillions of dollars in lost tax revenues and higher spending for safety-net programs.
Yet rarely has the political system seemed more polarized and less able to solve big problems that involve trust, tough choices and little short-term gain. The main urgency for both parties seems to be about pinning blame on the other, before November's elections, for deficits now averaging $1 trillion a year, the largest since World War II relative to the size of the economy.
Mr. Bayh, the centrist Democrat from Indiana, lodged his complaint about excessive partisanship and Congressional gridlock on Monday by way of explaining his decision not to seek re-election. But he is hardly alone in sounding an alarm about the long-term budgetary outlook, which has Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security costs growing at unsustainable rates and an inefficient tax system that cannot keep up.
Sensing political advantage, Republicans are resisting President Obama's call for a bipartisan commission to cut the debt, although recent studies have implicated the tax cuts and spending policies of the years after 2000 when they controlled Congress and the White House. Even seven Republican senators who had co-sponsored a bill to create a commission nonetheless voted against it recently.
Calmes ludicrously sold Barack Obama, who has pushed an enormously expensive health-care proposal (and signed a $787 billion "stimulus" package into law) as some kind of fiscal austerity-monger struggling against the political tide:
The president is not giving up. On Thursday, administration officials say, he will sign an executive order establishing the 18-member National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. He also will name as co-chairmen Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican Senate leader from Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, a moderate Democrat from North Carolina who, as President Bill Clinton's White House chief of staff, brokered a 1997 balanced budget agreement with Congressional Republicans.
Calmes cited unnamed "veterans of past Republican administrations" to push for higher taxes, and even pushed Obama to break his campaign pledge not to raise taxes for those making under $250,000.
Elected Republicans, however, are under intense pressure from their party's conservative base to oppose any tax increases - a line in the sand that dims any prospects for bipartisan cooperation. Yet economists, including veterans of past Republican administrations, are vocal in insisting that the debt problem is too great to be solved without increasing revenues somehow and perhaps moving to a new consumption tax system like Europe's.
The same economists also say a significant deficit-reduction plan is not possible unless Mr. Obama breaks his campaign promise not to raise taxes for households making less than $250,000. Last week, Mr. Obama said he would not impose that condition or any other on a fiscal commission.
That's really hypocritical, considering the passionate, desperate lengths to which Times reporters (most notoriously Larry Rohter) slammed the GOP during the campaign for daring to suggest Obama would raise taxes on those making under $250,000. Now a Times reporter is basically encouraging it. Will the McCain campaign get an apology?
Privately, Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner and other administration officials are courting Republicans with assurances of the administration's sincerity about bipartisanship. Publicly, and with advice from some out-of-office Republicans, the White House is applying pressure by repeatedly reminding Americans of the mess Mr. Obama inherited.
Calmes, following in political reporter Adam Nagourney's blinkered wake, somehow managed to find good news for the White House in last week's NYT/CBS News poll that showed Obama's ratings plummeting, both on issues like health care and in general. Calmes clutches onto the vague bipartisanship:
Polls are helping the administration make its case, people in both parties say. In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, Americans by a two-to-one ratio say Mr. Obama is trying to work with Republicans, while by more than two-to-one they say Republicans are not reciprocating. As for the deficit, 41 percent say the Bush administration is most to blame, 24 percent say Congress and 7 percent say Mr. Obama.