As David Gergen at AC360 points out, our vacationing president reappointed Ben Bernanke today as head of the Federal Reserve in an obvious attempt to divert attention from bad news on the economic front.
Yet even the Bernanke story cannot fully deflect attention from the other economic story engulfing the administration today: its official announcement of new economic projections – in particular, its acknowledgment that deficits over the coming decade will be even higher than it said only three months ago. Now, the administration is predicting that instead of $7 trillion in new deficits, the country will rack up a staggering $9 trillion in new deficits for the 2010-2019 period. (The Congressional Budget Office has published its own numbers today that are largely parallel.)
Deficits of that magnitude would be extraordinarily dangerous and irresponsible for the country. They would double the national debt, risk much higher inflation, saddle future taxpayers with annual interest payments of over $900 billion, make us even more reliant upon China as a creditor, and over time would weaken us as a great nation. Talk about trend lines that are unsustainable!
Health care reform was already in growing trouble before this report. These deficit projections clearly add another significant threat to its passage. The administration will now have to persuade Congress and a skeptical public that it would be financially prudent to embark upon an ambitious new entitlement program in the teeth of dangerously growing deficits.
Gergen suggests a way out for the president:
In view of all this, President Obama has a choice. He can push forward with health reform efforts, giving short shrift to these deficit concerns. If so – if he continues to insist that Washington is just too “wee-weed up” — he will find that some of his strongest allies will become more reluctant on a big health reform bill this year.
Or he can come to grips with these grim forecasts and present to the nation a credible, comprehensive plan for reining in long-term deficits before Congress acts on health reform. The second path demands more courage – and is also the one of real leadership.