Obama Hasn't Forgotten About the Deficit


The president is completely ignoring the deficit.

Like oil in the Gulf, this meme is spreading uncontrollably and coating the local environment in something dark that needs to be burned.

The latest offender is David Broder, who seems to suggest that Obama needs to focus less on the oil spill and more on the deficit. He channels a lot of budget angst but doesn't mention that the president's hectic agenda has landed on the budget quite a few times in the last few months:

1) Last year, the president insisted on a three-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending.

2) He's requested that each government agency create a budget that would shave at least 5% off spending.

3) He's asked for a new law that would give him the power to amend spending bills and send the edits back to Congress for an up-or-down vote.

4) He's created a deficit commission to study ways to reduce the deficit in the medium and long term.

5) ... And that's not to mention a health care law that introduces, for the first time, significant cuts in Medicare spending and a bushel of experimental programs designed to chisel away at medical inflation.

Look, the president hasn't stood behind a VAT or Social Security reform or big defense cuts or federal salary freezes. He hasn't made a public address about America's fundamental imbalance between taxing and spending. He hasn't made a point of invading our television screens with warnings about public debt to GDP ratios. And don't get me wrong, I wish the administration had a clearer medium and long term strategy for reducing our debt burden beyond shooting arrows at health care costs.

But Broder's criticism of the president demonstrates exactly how difficult it is to demonstrate seriousness about the budget. First he says the "uncertainties" of "government policies" are forcing corporations to hold record levels of cash, and seems to call for the president to cut back on aggressive spending. Then he notes that states are facing an unprecedented shortage of cash, and seems to suggest the president should fix that, too. In other words: "Stop everything! Also, act immediately!"

It's understandable that a casual observer of politics would watch the Obama speech and conclude that if the president went a whole half hour without mentioning the economy, he must have forgotten about it. But David Broder isn't a casual observer of politics. He's the dean of political reporting. If he can't separate the noise (Obama's lost interest in managing the budget!) from the reality (Obama is dealing with an unprecedented environmental crisis while struggling to persuade lawmakers to both raise the short-term deficit and plan for our long-term fiscal health), then we're really in trouble.

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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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