Today President Obama held a press conference in which he talked mostly about his FY 2012 budget, and secondarily about events in the Middle East. In one respect, his performance can only be described as bizarre: he made claims about the ten-year projections in his FY 2012 budget that are patently untrue.
Obama began the press conference with a short opening statement that included this:
When I took office, I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term. Our budget meets that pledge and puts us on a path to pay for what we spend by the middle of the decade.
Presumably the middle of the decade is 2015. In that year, Obama’s budget forecasts a deficit of $607 billion. If he was referring to 2016, the projected deficit in that year is $649 billion. Oh, and in Obama’s budget the deficits are rising, not falling: for 2012, it projects a $774 billion shortfall. So what on earth was Obama talking about?
A few minutes later, while answering a question, Obama made the same claim, even more explicitly:
On the budget, what my budget does is to put forward some tough choices, some significant spending cuts so that by the middle of this decade our annual spending will match our annual revenues. We will not be adding more to the national debt. It’s — so, to use a — sort of, an analogy that families are familiar with, we’re not going to be running up the credit card anymore.
This is other-worldly. Has Obama not read his own budget? Or does he assume that no one else has?
Later in the press conference, a reporter called Obama on his misstatements. The President’s response was utterly incoherent:
QUESTION: A little — a little fine print — a little fine print in the budget, Mr. President.
You’ve said that this budget is not going to add to the credit card as of about the middle of the decade. And, as Robert Gibbs might say, I’m not a budget expert and I’m not an economist, but if you could just explain to me how you can say that, when, if you look on one page — page 171, which I’m sure you’ve read, it is the central page in this, the deficits go from $1.1 trillion down to $768 billion, and they go down again, all the way to $607 billion in 2015. billion in 2015.
And then they start to creep up again, and by 2021, it’s at $774 billion. And the total over those 10 years — the total debt is $7.2 trillion on top of the $14 trillion we already have.
How can you say that we’re living within our means?
OBAMA: Well, here — here – here’s — let me be clear on what I’m saying because I’m not suggesting that we don’t have to do more.
We still have all this accumulated debt as a consequence of the recession and as a consequence of a series of decisions that were made over the last decade. We’ve piled up — we’ve racked up a whole bunch of debt. And there’s a lot of interest on that debt.
So in the same way that if you’ve got a credit card and you’ve got a big balance, you may not be adding to principal; you’ve still got all that interest that you’ve got to pay. Well, we’ve got a big problem in terms of accumulated interest that we’re paying and that’s why we’re going to have to whittle down further the debt that’s already been accumulated. So that’s problem number one.
And problem number two we already talked about, which is rising health care costs and programs like Medicaid and Medicare are going to, once you get past this decade, going to start zooming up again as a consequence of the population getting older and health care costs going up more rapidly than incomes and wages and revenues are going up. So you’ve got those two big problems.
What we’ve done is to try to take this in stages. What we say in our budget is let’s get control of our discretionary budget to make sure that whatever it is that we’re spending on an annual basis, we’re also taking in a similar amount. That’s step number one.
Step number two is going to make — is going to be how do we make sure that we’re taking on these long-term drivers, and how do we start whittling down the debt?
And that’s going to require entitlement reform and it’s going to require tax reform.
This made zero sense, as is so often the case when Obama says “let me be clear.” Obama’s budget, even if you take it at face value and accept all of its rosy assumptions, does not “make sure that whatever it is that we’re spending on an annual basis, we’re also taking in a similar amount.” Caught out in a lie, and unable to answer the question in any coherent way, Obama repeated the lie but buried it in a torrent of verbiage that he apparently thought would confuse the issue.
Obama’s disconnection from reality in his press conference was so extreme that it makes one wonder about the mental health of our commander in chief.
UPDATE: Some readers were offended by my suggestion that Obama’s performance yesterday could have been the result of some kind of mental lapse. There are two other alternatives; either Obama is a bald-faced liar, or he isn’t familiar with his own budget. I am not sure that either of those alternatives is better.
There are two reasons why I thought Obama was, at that moment, disconnected from reality, as opposed to merely lying. First, he could not rationally have expected to get away with misrepresenting elementary facts about his budget to a roomful of reporters, some of whom were holding the budget in their hands. Second, when a reporter called Obama on his misrepresentation about projected future deficits, Obama’s rambling and incoherent response neither acknowledged that his claims were flatly contradicted by his own budget document, nor explained the contradiction. Instead, he repeated the falsehood that “whatever it is that we’re spending on an annual basis, we’re also taking in a similar amount.” You can read his answer for yourself and judge whether it is the product of an orderly thought process.
So, I don’t pretend to know: maybe Obama was just trying to get away with a lie, or maybe he doesn’t understand his own budget. One way or another, his performance yesterday was not one to inspire confidence. Michael Ramirez viewed Obama’s performance even more negatively than I did; click to enlarge: