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President Obama Steps to the Right -- and Off a Cliff?

5 years ago
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Liberal criticism of President Obama's proposed spending freeze will be muted once critics see the details of the plan, according to a top White House official. Those must be some amazing details.
The administration's objectives are still to "put people back to work and make sure the economy is growing," Rob Nabors, the deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. The freeze is an effort to balance the budget and spend money wisely, he noted.
For now, Paul Krugman of The New York Times writes that "depressing demand when the economy is still suffering from mass unemployment" is "appalling on every level." Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich said on the Huffington Post, "A pending freeze will make it even harder to get jobs back because government is the last spender around."
The White House has dispatched officials to discuss what it all means. As Nabors explained it, "This is not an across-the-board cut"; it's not a freeze on every agency or every program. Not every agency that is subject to the freeze would be frozen, he said. Important initiatives in the areas of education and energy research would be preserved.
Nabors also said the administration could fulfill its jobs goals and the economy would be on stronger footing when the freeze begins in October, the start of fiscal year 2011. However, "the fiscal trajectory that we're on is not sustainable."
He made the analogy of a family sitting down at the table, going over the budget and learning to live within its means by trimming non-essentials. Of course, with defense spending, Social Security and a list of other untouchable programs, there won't be a lot on that table. And right now, members of the family aren't speaking to one another. A worry is that programs with moneyed supporters behind them will drown out other interests.
Monday night, White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein was challenged by Rachel Maddow when he appeared on her MSNBC show to talk about the proposal. The administration representative was there to explain just how the three-year spending freeze was going to work at a time when unemployment is up, people are struggling to pay the mortgage and states and cities are cutting budgets to the bone.
I tried to follow Bernstein. But I lost him when he said the freeze isn't really a freeze, and it wouldn't go into effect until the next fiscal year, and it was more of a guideline than a rule. (OK, I made that last part up.)
It was a fascinating spectacle, if you enjoy the sight of a political party cutting its own throat. One election defeat in Massachusetts, and already the Democrats are throwing things against the wall to see if they stick. The progressive base and a gaggle of economists are poking holes in the deficit-reduction-in-a recession strategy that administration folks are trying mightily to defend. Republicans, with just 41 Senate seats, are sitting back, content to look like winners by doing not much at all.
On Tuesday, the Senate rejected legislation calling for a bipartisan deficit-reduction congressional commission.
Meanwhile, in other news on Monday, President Obama and Vice President Biden presided over a meeting of the Middle Class Task Force. Its proposed initiatives included an increase in funding for child care and a plan to match retirement savings.
Of course, that development was quickly washed away as everyone tried to make sense of the spending freeze. So the White House stepped on its own clear message, replacing it with a confusing and controversial one that looked at first glance like pandering or a meaningless gimmick.
This early, there is no way to know how midterm elections will turn out, though the trends don't look good for the party in power. Hey, Democrats! Why not try something novel? Instead of hiding under the desk until the mean old Republicans leave you alone, or floating policies in an effort to make nice (hint: sucking up won't make them like you), you could actually figure out what you believe in -- and what you believe is best for the country. It's called vision.
Win or lose, people will respect you – and there's not a lot of that going around these days.

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