The “next big thing” has arrived in the political arena this week, though how “big” it will really turn out to be remains to be seen. President Obama, proving once and for all that he actually is capable of reading poll numbers, is proposing a three year spending freeze on domestic discretionary spending. Before you deficit hawks get too excited, we’re talking about roughly 20% of the budget here, and it is projected to save approximately $250B over ten years at a time when we’re running roughly $200B deficits every month. (Hat tip for that one to Allahpundit, who snarkily refers to Obama as a “noted deficit hawk.”) But the one thing I would rather not see is fiscal conservatives rushing to throw cold water on this idea.
Granted, the numbers don’t mount up to much right away, and Obama should have expected that his proposal would receive scorn from both sides of the aisle. And he didn’t have long to wait for that to happen. John Boehner came out quickly with a statement comparing the move to “going on a diet after winning a pie eating contest.” From the left, the suggestion of not spending money as quickly immediately sent MSNBC talking head Rachel Maddow into apoplectic fits, referring to the move as “Stupid Hooverism.”
But I don’t want to jump on the bandwagon here and dump all over the President’s efforts. Small steps are better than no steps, and this can be viewed in much the same way that many of us view pork barrel spending through the earmark system. True, earmarks don’t add up to a very significant portion of the budget, but it’s the symbolism of the spending and the problems which arise from money changing hands in questionable deals which we oppose. So even if this doesn’t amount to a lot of real savings, it is at least a step in the right direction. I’ve been waiting quite a while for this president to demonstrate some leadership in his own party, and this is a good starting point.
The more cynical among us will note that the Republicans weren’t very good at fiscal restraint during the Bush years, and that is absolutely correct. We ran up more than $5T in debt during the GOP salad days early in this decade, including a disastrous expansion of Medicare pushed through with largely fantastic ideas of paying for it. (“Fantastic” i.e. “comprised largely of fantasy.”) You may also claim that Obama is simply doing this because he sees his approval numbers tanking and he is in a panic over his party facing a slaughter in the 2010 mid-terms. Fine. Feel free. Personally, I don’t care if he’s doing it because somebody is blackmailing him with a picture of him smoking cigars with Fidel Castro. The point is, we’ve finally got the President acknowledging that spending is out of control and the mounting national debt is threatening to crush us.
This spending freeze may not be much, but I’ll take it for a start. Now let’s see if he can get some of the Democrats in Congress to follow suit.
UPDATE: Here’s another part of the problem (for those of you who think I’m being “too reasonable” this morning. *wink*) Jonathan Zasloff goes so far as to honestly express what I suspect is the chief factor underlying most of the objections coming from the President’s own party.
Perhaps the worst thing about this is how it cedes the ideological ground to the Republicans.
To quote a political analyst who is generally far more talented than me… YOU’RE NOT HELPING! Don’t you understand that this is far more important than any silly political games, or who is winning and who is losing in this week’s Rassmussen poll numbers? We’re looking at a mountain of debt which is far beyond the range where we can reasonably “spend our way out” of a short term dip. You think you’re worried about America being attacked by terrorists or invaded by some foreign nation? We’re virtually unbeatable in military terms, at least for now. The real danger to the United States is the possibility that our entire economy could implode completely, leaving us with a choice of selling off vast portions of the nation to foreign creditors or defaulting on our debts. That’s the looming mushroom cloud on the horizon for the 21st century.