Program Note: Tune in to hear more from David Gergen tonight on AC360° at 10 p.m. ET.
David Gergen | Bio
CNN Senior Political Analyst
President Obama is taking a significant step toward fulfilling another important campaign pledge this week: he is unveiling a federal budget that actually tries to tell us some hard truths about the government’s finances. Too many years in the past, the Bush administration engaged in deception by keeping the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan out of the regular budget, plus pulling off some other shenanigans that disguised just how much the government was growing and how much its deficits were growing. By the time he left office, President Bush had practically doubled the national debt – doing as much damage in 8 years as the republic had suffered in more than 200 previous years combined.
Obama promised truth in budgeting, and he is succeeding far more than in the recent past. The cost of both wars will now be included in this week’s budget, money will be set aside to respond to natural disasters, and the budget won’t show cost cutting in programs that everyone knows will be revived (e.g., the alternative minimum tax).
The results of taking a truth serum – along with the horrendous costs we are piling up in fighting the economic crisis – will reveal eye-popping numbers stretching far into the future. We can expect at least $1.3 trillion in deficits this coming year, another mountain the following year, before the deficits will be shown to slope down to some $533 billion four years from now. The Administration is touting that as serious progress, but only a year or so ago, an annual deficit of $500 billion would have been wholly unacceptable.
We need to know the hard truths about our country’s financial situation and the Administration deserves congratulations for going as far as it has, but the question arises: has it gone far enough? Will even this first Obama budget tell us everything we need to know? Sadly, that does not appear to be the case.
Here are just a few things the administration must still tell us:
In short, as much as President Obama’s truth in budgeting deserves praise for shedding more light on our financial condition, there is still far too much that is hidden in shadows. With hundreds of billions of dollars in new commitments being casually tossed about, almost numbing in size and always confusing in content, the Obama Administration will do a great deal to begin rebuilding trust and confidence in the future if it tells us what we need to know – and not just part of it, all of it!
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