President Obama plans to call for a three-year spending freeze on most domestic programs in the federal budget. The freeze, which would not affect security or defense, is designed to signal the White House's seriousness about reducing the deficit, a chief concern of budget-minded conservatives. As we've covered, the White House is seeking a more populist tone and a greater focus on the 2010 elections.
Liberals are denouncing the spending freeze across blogs and airwaves. Many believe the move is all about politics, not policy. And the politics, many say, are just as clumsy as the policy. Even David Brooks insists the idea is "insane."
- Strong Language from Libs Digby's jaw drops, "Combined with the deficit fetishism, it will tie his hands at the time he needs the most flexibility on jobs --- and further destroy liberalism in the process." Duncan "Atrios" Black scoffs, "Because in a time of deep recession, the people want fewer benefits and higher health care costs." MSNBC's Rachel Maddow balks, "I have to tell you, it sounds completely, completely insane. [...] it's usually on day two of like a 101 level college econ class where they teach you that a spending freeze is not the way to bring the economy out of a downturn, let alone a recession."
- White House Panics, Betrays Liberals Mother Jones's Kevin Drum calls it "a panicky and transparent attempt to recover from the Massachusetts tsunami." He writes, "The liberal base now has yet another reason to be disgusted with Obama, so the obvious hope is that independents are going to lap this up. And who knows? Maybe they will."
- Why The Politics Are Bad Nate Silver calls it "a mistake on par with John McCain's 'suspending my campaign' gaffe." Silver denounces the politics, which he says will look duplicitous. How can the White House defend the massive stimulus and health care spending programs while it launches a massive spending reduction program? Won't it look, asks Silver, like they are trying to have it both ways?
- Will All Come Down to Farm Subsidies Matthew Yglesias writes, "Suffice it to say that I'm very skeptical of this approach." He suggests it will all come down to farm subsidies, which Obama should want to cut as wasteful but which are incredibly popular with the same Republicans who complain about the deficit. Yglesias predicts a big political fight between the White House and Republicans over whether to cut those subsidies. He projects several scenarios on how that could end.
- Could Inspire Congressional Dem Backlash The Washington Post's Ezra Klein says Obama wants to cut "worthless programs," but notes, "the reason worthless programs live in budget after budget is they have powerful backers." For example, "You think [Democratic Senator] Blanche Lincoln, who chairs the Senate Agricultural Committee and is behind in the polls for her 2010 reelection, is going to let her state's subsidies get gored?"
- Will Do Economic Harm EconoBlogger Brad DeLong denounces it as "a perfect example of fundamental unseriousness: rather than make proposals that will actually tackle the long-term deficit--either through future tax increases triggered by excessive deficits or through future entitlement spending caps triggered by excessive deficits--come up with a proposal that does short-term harm to the economy without tackling the deficit in any serious and significant way."
- David Brooks and Paul Krugman Called Freezes 'Insane' In March 2009, when Republicans were calling for a similar freeze on discretionary, two heavyweight New York Times columnists denounced the move in the strongest possible words. Neither David Brooks nor Paul Krugman has weighed in on Obama's projected freeze, which has yet to be fully fleshed out so could be different in key ways. But in March, David Brooks called it "insane" and Paul Krugman compared Republicans to "Beavis and Butthead" over the move.
- What If It Works? The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder is skeptical, but surveys the best-case for Obama. "The big if -- IF the president really fights for this...fights against his own party, and does so with conviction -- if Democrats decide to embrace this (which is doubtful), then it could help both his party and himself."