NO ONE should be surprised, but President Bush's proposed 2009 budget, which would overlap with only the final three months of his presidency, is built on fantasies, postponements, and hard choices that will be dumped on the next president.
Fantasies like cutting payments to hospitals and doctors for Medicare and Medicaid while raising military spending by almost 12 percent. Postponements like taking meaningful steps to balance the budget when this plan would add $250 million to the national debt. Hard choices like scaling back a costly war that is bleeding the government's role at home.
The President's $3.1 trillion budget, which would take effect Oct. 1, even failed to impress fiscal conservatives, which curiously is how Mr. Bush describes himself. Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, ranking Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, said the administration's budget is "not going to happen" and "I don't think they even worked very hard at it."
We couldn't agree more. Mr. Bush blazed a trail into the White House, after former President Bill Clinton had delivered four years of surplus, with a promise to reduce the national debt. But years of tax cuts for the rich and one ill-advised adventure in Iraq later, and Mr. Bush will leave generations of Americans a $9.7 trillion national debt the day he leaves office, $4 trillion of it compiled during his administration, according to the Washington Post.
The latest barrels of red ink will come from the dubious economic stimulus hatched by the President and a bipartisan group in Congress, who want to use $150 million or more to blunt the effects of a possible recession.
Add to that the fact that the President's budget assumes growth this year of 2.7 percent, much higher than estimates from both private economists and the Congressional Budget Office, and the deficit could end up much higher.
It will be left to the Democrats and Republicans in Congress to craft a more realistic spending plan for 2009. That won't be the easiest thing to do in an election year, with candidates for House, the Senate, and the presidency all jockeying for position.
But someone has to be the grown-up and take charge of the federal wallet. That means curbing the cost of Iraq, stabilizing the social safety net, and reminding the country that America's programs - at home or abroad - have to be paid for by Americans.