Tax and spending experts, echoed by Republican leaders, say that President Obama's plan to call for a spending freeze and earmark ban in his State of the Union address is deja vu all over again, to quote former Yankee Manager Yogi Berra. "He came out with the same thing last year," says a key GOP-er, "but still came out with $70 billion in new spending."
While it sounds like a bolder plan than last year, primarily because Obama would add more spending categories to the freeze on non-defense discretionary spending, it doesn't go as far as the GOP wants. They are calling for spending to return to 2008, and in some cases 2006, levels. What's more, they want $100 billion slashed from the current budget of about $3.8 trillion. [See photos of the Obamas behind the scenes.]
While he called for a freeze and earmark ban last year, the National Taxpayers Union Foundation discovered $70 billion in new spending. A report they released at the time said, "Even as he encouraged positive reforms like a freeze on a small portion of the federal budget and a more robust disclosure process for congressional earmarks, President Obama still called for at least $70.46 billion in new federal spending burdens on taxpayers." What's more, said senior policy analyst Demian Brady, "Presidents often give laundry lists of proposals designed to please political constituencies in their State of the Union Addresses, and President Obama's speech was no exception. But regardless of what's in the laundry bag, the people left holding the bill for it all are the nation's taxpayers. While the President should be commended for his newfound support of a spending freeze on one-eighth of the federal budget, Americans won't be happy to learn that his other proposals would far outweigh any savings the freeze might provide."
Pete Sepp, the spokesman for the foundation, doesn't expect much from tonight's proposal. He tells Washington Whispers: "President Obama's last freeze and ban proposal didn't quite work out as well as planned; part of the budget has been frozen for six months, not so much as a deliberate act of policy but rather because of a stalemate in Congress. Meanwhile, the term 'earmark ban' meant different things to different lawmakers who heard the term. House Republicans went whole-hog against them, House Democrats opposed some earmarks, while senators of both parties were all over the map. Unless three quarters of the chamber gives a standing ovation for an outright ban tonight, look for some of the divisions in the 111th Congress to haunt the 112th." [See editorial cartoons about the economy.]
Sepp added that money that was scheduled for earmark spending should be walled off to pay down the deficit. "An earmark ban is a great idea, provided the money goes away as well as the politicking. Earmarks are instructions from Congress about where to funnel tax dollars. Take away the instructions, and the dollars just fall into some other sinkhole unless they're 'earmarked' for the higher purpose of reducing the debt." [See a gallery of political caricatures.]
Others suggested that the president should follow up his plan by proposing a zero growth budget and a vow to line-item veto any earmark that crosses his desk.