Matt Bai Gives Obama a Pass on Budget Whiff

In Thursday's "Sure Recipe for Decline: Neglect and Gluttony," political writer Matt Bai set out his take on the competing spending and budgetary visions of Obama and the newly invigorated G.O.P. Like budget reporter Jackie Calmes before him, Bai, who has previously expressed hostility toward the Tea Party and sympathy toward Obama, mostly gave the president a pass for his lack of presidential leadership on spending cuts, declaring Obama's approach to the budget superior to that of the Republicans.

...To argue that government shouldn't invest in making the country technologically viable is to ignore the role that tax dollars played in building railroads and highways and the Internet. It wasn't some start-up in a garage that landed Apollo on the moon, spawning an aerospace industry and all kinds of ancillary technologies.

At the same time, as the president's own debt commission pointed out (using data from the Congressional Budget Office), even waiting 10 years to address the long-term debt could double the spending cuts and tax increases needed to set right the country's finances. And sooner or later, the experts will tell you, that impending crisis will lead to higher interest rates and stifled enterprise.

The question, then, is the extent to which either party's theory of decline allows room for addressing the other. And in this way, Mr. Obama would seem to be taking the more balanced approach.

True, Mr. Obama didn't act on his own debt panel's recommendation in the budget, and his proposed $1.1 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade doesn't amount to a dent in the long-term problem, or even really a ding. But the president did propose some cuts to programs long cherished by his party (like community block grants and aid for water treatment plants), and he has repeatedly acknowledged the need to address the structural problems in the federal budget, which he argues will require a gradual process with cooperation from both parties.

Republicans, on the other hand, while making a strong push for curtailed spending in the short term, have yet to accept the case for any real public investment in technology or education or anything else, for that matter. The entirety of their case rests on the notion that the private sector can by itself build a state-of-the-art infrastructure - a possibility, certainly, but not one for which you can really find much evidence in any previous chapter of the American story.