The Wrong Way to Cut the Deficit

I guess I'm pleased that Obama has asked his Cabinet to shave off $100 million from its budget to cut into the deficit. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, after all. Of course, this hardly counts as a step. It's more like foot stretch. Paul Krugman has the right perspective:

Let's say the administration finds $100 million in efficiencies every working day for the rest of the Obama administration's first term. That's still around $80 billion, or around 2% of one year's federal spending.

Krugman goes on to say that this is fine political theater and all, but I'm not even sure it's that.

Obama's already being ridiculed over at conservative blogs like Hot Air, which proclaims: "Obama demands 0.0029% budget cut after running up spending." Yes, that is exactly what he's doing. The president tries to defend himself against "drop in the bucket" jabs with a bit of honesty - he admits, wisely, that the amount is statistically insignificant in the big picture - but goes on to say this:

"Cumulatively they make an extraordinary difference because they start setting a tone ... And so what we're going to do is, line by line, page by page, $100 million there, $100 million here, pretty soon even in Washington, it adds up to real money."

Two things. First, no. 0.0029% + 0.0029% does not add up to anything, really. Nothing at all. Second, killing the deficit beast with paper cuts is not what I would call "setting a tone." Actually, it's what I would call "perpetuating the idea that beasts can be killed by paper cuts." Meaningful steps to closing a $1.75+ trillion deficit this year will require exactly the kind of hard choices that Obama has talked about in public but appear nowhere in his policies. In the heart of a recession, maybe that's to be expected. But when it's finally time to set the tone on deficit cuts, I hope the music's a little bolder. $100,000,000 is start, if a tiny one, but it's nothing without a few zeroes tacked on the end.