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Didn’t Mr. Freeze Die in Batman Forever?

January 25, 2010

I’m not quite clear on the endgame of the President’s proposed spending freeze, and nobody else really is either.  Ezra Klein:

The devil here is in the details. The administration is proposing specific cuts in the budget. Most expect those cuts to be pretty unobjectionable. Some programs — particularly in the education and health spheres — will even see increases. But it’ll be hard to evaluate the policy until we see where the savings are actually coming from. “Non-security discretionary spending” is a big category.

Then comes the collision between the budget and Congress. And here things get dicier. Congress can stick to the administration’s freeze but throws out the administration’s proposed cuts. The way this works is simple: The administration will target worthless programs, like agricultural subsidies, in order to preserve good programs. But the reason worthless programs live in budget after budget is they have powerful backers. And those backers will rush to Congress to protect their profits. You think Blanche Lincoln, who chairs the Senate Agricultural Committee and is behind in the polls for her 2010 reelection, is going to let her state’s subsidies get gored?

Kevin Drum:

Whatever. Just to be clear: $250 billion over the coming decade, even if Obama miraculously makes this work, is $250 billion out of a projected deficit of, oh, let’s call it $10 trillion in round numbers. In other words, about 2 or 3 percent.

And in return for what? The liberal base now has yet another reason to be disgusted with Obama, so the obvious hope is that independents are going to lap this up. And who knows? Maybe they will. But what I wonder is this: hasn’t Obama’s pivot happened too quickly to seem like anything other than what it increasingly is: a panicky and transparent attempt to recover from the Massachusetts tsunami? Given that, is anyone going to buy it? Or is it just going to come across as a thinly veiled and poll approved effort to “connect” with voter angst without really doing anything substantive

Nate Silver:

I’m fairly certain that the “spending freeze” will poll well in the near-term, and may even take Obama’s approval numbers up a point or so with it. But Obama’s not the one on the ballot in 2010; in the medium run, it’s most likely effect is to confuse voters, and in the long run, it’ll probably either be forgotten about or become Another Broken Promise™. The narrative about the “perpetual campaign” is generally kind of facile, but this whole thing has a weirdly campaign-trail quality to it.

Yeah, the only thing I can definitively say about this is 1) this is obviously political and 2) I seriously doubt that it will actually get done.  Politicians can’t cut spending because they are politicians.  That chart is really sobering.  I’m gonna go take a Zoloft.

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