The Spend-To-Save Presidency

When it comes to both health care and Afghanistan, there's a common thread. In each case, the Obama administration is making the case that spending more now will save money in the long run. This is the essential argument behind health care: The current system not only leaves 40-million-plus uninsured and the rest of us scared, but it costs too much, and to fix the system you must spend more now so you can spend less later. Likewise, that's the argument behind the president's Afghanistan speech tomorrow: We must increase troops so we can reduce them and leave that bloody crossroads.

 This is not an argument unique to the Obama presidency. When George W. Bush twisted arms to pass the greatest expansion of Medicare since LBJ, the Part D plan that created a non-hospital prescription drug benefit for seniors, part of the argument was that you would save money in the long run. Get grampa his blood pressure medicine now and you don't have to treat his heart attack later. It's the argument behind the surge in Iraq. More troops now so you can declare victory and go home. In all of these cases there's logic and risk. You don't really know if it will work and what the final bill will be.
The problem is more acute for Obama because he's chosen--by necessity, I think--to spend so much. And so he's had to make the same arguments Bush did--spend now, save later--but with much bigger numbers and with the attendant skepticism that (unfairly) Democrats must carry as if they live to spend.

Can you sell the paradox of spending to save? The Weekly Standard takes aim here.

Saturday Night Live takes aim below:

It's worth noting, despite the yuks, that there is a compelling argument that spending does save. See this account of the new study from MIT's Jonathan Gruber.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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