The president’s people are floating a new idea for tonight’s State of the Union Address – a freeze on elements of the discretionary non-discretionary spending that makes up nearly a third of government outlays.*
While willing to suspend my disbelief, to me it seems like the move is almost purely political theater:
The payoff in budget savings would be small relative to the deficit: The estimated $250 billion in savings over 10 years would be less than 3 percent of the roughly $9 trillion in additional deficits the government is expected to accumulate over that time.
Whether or not this can actually be implemented is one question: The president proposes, but Congress disposes. Whether or not he actually means to try and implement it will be what’s really worth watching – this could just be one of those “I feel your pain” SOTU throwaways that never quite makes it into policy.
Still, the howls on the left are predictable. Former Enron adviser and economist Paul Krugman is up in arms, calling the proposal “appalling at every level.” And Bob Hebert is starting to wonder – as so many of us did more than a year ago, “who exactly is this guy?”
It’s a tough situation: The president’s tabula rasa candidacy had certain advantages – anyone could write in what they liked, and the his stump rhetoric, although inspiring to many, didn’t really have a very great deal of actionable there, there. But fundamentally, governing means making choices, and each choice comes at a cost. Oxen are routinely gored.
Many predicted that our president could never satisfy all the aspirations of those who supported him, since their own motivations were so disparate. But the chattering classes share quite a number of unexamined certainties. When they turn on him – and it may be starting now – it won’t be pretty.
Update: Corrected to note that the spending freeze is not on so-called mandatory spending, the two-thirds share of the federal budget which is mushrooming uncontrollably, but rather on elements within the much smaller one-third of discretionary funding. Which, since the freeze excludes military spending is purely symbolic.
Thanks to occasional reader William for his clarification.