The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
The president has been attacked from the left and the right for his proposal to freeze non-security discretionary spending. The left feels betrayed that their leader would apply a scalpel (the administration’s term) to favored programs. The right whines that the freeze would amount to a drop in the overflowing bucket of red ink, and the quarter trillion in savings pale in comparison to the $10 trillion in deficits expected over the next decade.
The left needs to wake up and read the election returns. If ultrablue Massachusetts is sending conservative Republicans to Washington, it’s clear that the U.S. isn’t Sweden, or even France. The growth of government will have to be constrained and applying a scalpel to less effective programs is, as Howard Gleckman said, “a start.”
As for the Republicans, get real! Yeah, the big problem is entitlements and not discretionary spending. But when President Obama tried to limit Medicare growth in the health reform bill, you guys emerged as the defenders of the seniors’ health program. How do you suggest the president take on mandatory spending? How about a budget commission? No, you and your liberal co-obstructionists in the Senate shot that down yesterday.
Cutting discretionary spending is hard for a Democratic president. Republicans who care about the size of government should applaud rather than sneer. (Encouragingly, Senator McCain and a few other prominent Republicans have expressed support, although the leadership is still dismissive.)
But I've concluded that Obama’s freeze isn’t aimed at either Republicans or the Democratic base. It’s a populist move meant to assuage those who are ticked off that the federal payroll has grown while private-sector jobs have been vanishing at an alarming rate. The message in the freeze is that government jobs no longer come with life tenure. To that end, Pelosi and Reid’s protestations are a plus—if the president can put together a coalition to implement the freeze. And such a bipartisan coalition would provide comfort to the independents who are fleeing Obama’s camp.
That said, the freeze is a risky move. If the President can’t pull it off, he’ll lose the populist boost while undermining his base support.
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