President Obama told Robert Kuttner, “We’re spending about 23 percent of GDP and we take in 18 percent of GDP and that gap is growing because health care costs, Medicare and Medicaid in particular, are growing.” Parse this statement carefully and you realize that the health care reform only takes care of the growth in the structural deficit, not the structural deficit itself. Later on, however, Obama claims that the “long-term structural deficit that is primarily being driven by health care costs, and our long-term entitlement programs.” So apparently the “long-term structural deficit” is caused by “long-term entitlement programs.” Obama doesn’t mention military spending, which would make sense if the budget shortfall was indeed a “9-point-something trillion-dollar deficit” that Obama claimed it was in this interview. But it isn’t.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, as of August 2009, “the federal budget deficit for 2009 will total [an estimated] $1.6 trillion, which, at 11.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), will be the highest since World War II.” Military spending, at close to $700 billion dollars, is a significant chunk of that deficit and nearly matches the military spending of the entire rest of the world.
Dana Milbank writes that “Obama supporters [are] get[ting] a dose of reality.” But Milbank acknowledges that Obama has broken important promises. And while one might treat an appeal “to stop settling for what the cynics say we have to accept” as rhetorical rather than substantial, it’s hard to reconcile balancing the budget on the backs of the poor who are suffering from the worst recession since the Great Depression with Obama’s call “for what we know is possible: A nation healed. A world repaired. An America that believes again.”