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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
By Steven L. Taylor

Via the NYT:  Obama to Seek Freeze on Some Spending to Trim Deficits

President Obama will call for a three-year freeze in spending on many domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that, an initiative intended to signal his seriousness about cutting the budget deficit, administration officials said Monday.

First, this is ultimately a gimmick.  Not only are we ultimately talking about a fairly small percentage of the budget (see below), but the ability of a President of the United States to impose such a freeze on the Congress (which, please note, actually makes the budget) for one year (let alone three) is so small it might as well be non-existent.  Even if congressional leadership makes positive noises in the direction of the idea, I can’t imagine that the notion could actually survive the budget process.

Second, there will be, I expect, criticism (if not hoots and howls) from the rightward side of things on this proposal (for example, this one showed up in my inbox last night and I note that Hugh Hewitt calls it “laughable”.)  And, as per my first point, criticism is fair.  However (and this is a big “however”), the normal source of spending freeze proposals is the Republican Party.   As such, there is some hypocrisy in the air here.

Policy-wise, in fact, it would seem to me that if the GOP is actually serious about fiscal conservatism, they ought to embrace to proposal and take whatever savings they can get and press for more (the process has to start somewhere, yes?).  They could even take the chance to try and accuse Obama of stealing their ideas.  However, the degree to which anyone in the Congress (or Washington, writ large) is actually interested in controlling spending/the deficit is questionable at best.  At a minimum, I expect that Republicans to try and capitalize politically on the situation, as November in their sights (after all, they’ll deal with spending once they’re in power, right?).

Third, back to the gimmick issue, the bottom line here is that this proposal underscores the fundamental difficulties to be associated with deficit reduction (let alone debt repayment) and it is that much of spending is mandatory (i.e., cannot be cut sans remarkable, if not impossible, political acts) and so the amount of the budget that can be frozen (let alone cut) is relatively small.  Part of that discretionary portion of the pie is the military, and that isn’t on the table for the freeze.

The proposal would

would exempt security-related budgets for the Pentagon, foreign aid, the Veterans Administration and homeland security, as well as the entitlement programs that make up the biggest and fastest-growing part of the federal budget: Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.

Also, service on the national debt should be added to the list.

I would note, a quarter of a trillion in savings is hardly something to sneeze at.  Still, I would refer the reader back to the first point made above.  This is DOA without substantial and widespread congressional support, which I suspect will not be forthcoming.

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2 Responses to “On the Spending Freeze Proposal”

  1. Ratoe Says:

    Part of that discretionary portion of the pie is the military, and that isn’t on the table for the freeze.

    This is precisely why it’s a gimmick. It really makes no sense to exclude the biggest slice of the discretionary spending pie.

    One of the main sources of the Bush-fatigue which swept Obama into office was the overextension of the military and the recognition that we needed to take a more sensible approach towards solving the international problems created by Bush.

    This involves primarily recognizing the need for political solutions to Iraq and Afghanistan-as opposed to military ones.

    Obama, unfortunately, fell into the typical trap of Presidents (including George w. “No-Nation-Building” Bush) where they get swept up in the relative ease of action through military means.

    Of course, this is only going to lead to disaster.

    A more sensible approach to both domestic and foreign problems is to recognize the waste of spending all of our money on a bloated military that has been used in an inappropriate manner by political leaders. You use the money saved to reduce the deficit and enhance our domestic resiliency.

  2. Harry Says:

    Unfortunately, as we’ve seen too many times over the past too many years, from both sides, gimmicks work, as far as pleasing the electorate goes. Slogans and snappy jibes at the opposite side outweigh accomplishments.

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