There’s a truism of budgeting that goes: The player who makes the first move always loses. That’s because the player with the second move has the opportunity to focus on the drawbacks of what the first player proposed. It’s one reason why some Republicans were nervous about House GOP budget chairman Paul Ryan’s determination to release a detailed, long-range proposal to curb spending, including cost-cutting reforms to major entitlement programs. Here was an opening for Obama to counter—as he did last week, to the evident delight of his liberal base.
In this case, however, budgetary game theory is being wrongly applied. The Ryan proposal was not, in fact, the first move. The first move was Obama’s February budget submission—the one that portrayed trillion-dollar deficits dancing toward an infinite horizon to the tune of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”