So apparently President Obama is planning a freeze on all new non-defense discretionary spending. That leaves out, as far as I can tell, current funding levels, additional DoD funding, and anything to do with Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security.
The left-wing/liberal/progressive blagoweb pretty much thinks this is stupid. Jeff Fecke provides a partial defense, which to Fecke’s credit doesn’t descend into “he’s playing 37-dimensional chess, you just have to trust him!” but still rests on too many hypotheticals for my comfort. Krugman takes a gloomier view.
Here’s my thing.
Politically, I don’t see this working well. Liberals think the last thing we should do is freeze spending on “discretionary” domestic programs like, oh, say, education. Conservatives, and moderates who have been bombarded for generations with conservative messages about how government deficits are terrible things, will find plenty of ground to accuse the administration of flim-flammery if Fecke is right and the freeze is aimed at providing deficit-hawk-ish cover for passing health care and jobs bills, and if not they’ll just hang the failing-to-substantially-improve economy around his neck (actually, they’ll probably do that no matter what).
And as policy, to be blunt, it’s shit. It has no significant impact on actual deficits — according to tonight’s Marketplace report, it will cut “only $250 billion over 10 years, but that’s out of a $3.5 trillion budget every year,” — but it cuts funding from areas where we really need more investment (like education and environmental programs), hurting people who need help. (And, cf. LGM, ignores the areas of real waste.)
So, I mean, maybe tomorrow night’s State of the Union turns it all around — maybe President Obama lays out a bold new liberal vision for the country, inspires the people to rally behind it, and shames recalcitrant Democrats into pushing forward a progressive agenda; or if that’s too fanciful a dream, maybe at least he proposes policy initiatives that make the current situation look less dire. Maybe. I’ll wait and see. But it doesn’t seem likely.
Update: I just got an email from the Washington Post with the subject line “Breaking News: Obama to promote more education spending in State of Union speech” — how does that square with this “spending freeze”? I don’t know. FWIW, here’s their story on the subject.