February 14 2012
The Valentine's Day Budget
Carrie L. Lukas
Here's the problem with Valentine's Day for the budget-conscious married couple: If your spouse gives you a present, it's real not a present since it's coming out of your pocket too. Sure, it sounds nice to have a big bouquet of roses show up at my front door, but the moment of feeling appreciated would be fleeting. A green-eye-shades wife like me instantly starts thinking of tradeoffs: The $80 he spent on those flowers that will be thrown away in a week could have been put toward our kids' summer camp, or used to buy the coat that I real want, but consider too much of a splurge.
A big part of marriage is setting priorities and making plans—that includes deciding where your money goes. It's different for unmarried couples whose finances are still separate. Then a gift is truly a gift, in which one party is sacrificing for the other. Not so much once you have joint checking.
It's also different for kids. The reality is that the money I spend on my kids now is money they won't have later. The ten dollars I spent for each kid for Valentine's Day candies and a stuffed animal could have instead gone into their respective college funds. But they don't understand this yet, so are simply very excited with whatever presents happen to come to them right now.
Which brings me to the President's budget. Much has been written already about how this budget is a purely political document that ignores the most pressing fiscal questions of our time and is based on completely unrealistic assumptions, and how even under those assumptions our debt grows at an alarming rate. Given that the Senate has no intention of actually taking up the President's budget, or offering one of its own, this is nothing more than a stop on the campaign.
Yet Americans should take this budget seriously. Not because it has any relationship to our country's actual fiscal future, but it tells us something about how the President sees citizens. This White House's budget posturing is far from an honest discussion about tradeoffs and the allocations of scarce resources.
Instead the President alternates between pretending the budget is filled with gifts from a lover or that we are all children jumping up and down waiting for the candy to come. We are encouraged to think that “the rich” out there can be drained of enough resources to pay for the gifts that the President wants to shower on favored liberal groups and causes. We are also encouraged to forget anything we know about spending trends and real-world economics, and have a child-like faith that all of this spending can occur since, presto, economic growth will suddenly shoot up and make up for today's splurges.
My great hope is that the American people, after this term with President Obama, will have had enough swooning and recognize that we need healthier relationships with our political representatives. We don't need a Don Juan to promise us the moon. We need a level-headed partner to help honestly assess the situation with an eye toward advancing shared goals that are in our long-term best interest. They may not sound very romantic, but it's the basis for a happier future.