Now that the economy is officially in recession, it is even less capable of financing such expansion, said Burman.
But former Congressional Budget Office Director Robert Reischauer, on the same panel with Burman, said that Obama has promised to make cuts in government programs to pay for expanded federal spending.
Burman, director of the Tax Policy Center, a division of the non-partisan Urban Institute, said of the projected cost of Obama’s campaign promises: “I don’t think we would have been able to afford it in the first place. The Obama plan would have added at least three-and-a-half trillion dollars to the national debt over the next several years, and that’s just the tax part. The health [insurance] part is another $1.6 trillion.”
“The deficit is a serious problem, and you would hope he [Obama] would take it more seriously as president than he did as a candidate,” Burman said.
But Reischauer, CBO director from 1989 to 1995 and currently president of the Urban Institute, defended Obama, citing his intentions to pay for additional programs by making cuts in existing government programs.
“Well, just to defend the president-elect, he [Obama] said, ‘I am going to make corresponding cuts in other programs to finance this,’” said Reischauer. “Now why is it that we believe that he is going to provide all of the goodies and none of the pain?”
Reischauer said it is feasible that Obama will decide to change his plans because of the economic downturn.
“He could come back to us now and say, ‘You know, I can’t find enough savings here [in existing government programs], so I am not going to do this [add new programs,]” Reischauer said.
Burman added that Republican presidential nominee John McCain had vaguely recognized overspending problems in the U.S. budget and promised “draconian cuts.”
Neither candidate’s plan, however, would have adequately dealt with the kind of deficits the United States will face, said Burman.
“There would have been trillion-dollar deficits,” said Burman. “I think both Obama and McCain were in La La land.”
The U.S. General Accounting Office estimates that the current total owed to Americans in federal benefits, but for which there are no funds available, is $53 trillion. Those allocated benefits are for Social Security and Medicare and several other programs.
The scholars were speaking as part of a panel discussion entitled, “The Audacity of Campaign Promises: The Obama Agenda Meets Fiscal Reality.”
The Urban Institute was established in 1968 by the administration of Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson.