By Bonnie Erbe, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
I agree with my colleague Peter Roff's description of President Obama's gargantuan makeover task as he prepares to deliver his State of the Union speech tonight:
The image of Obama as a reborn budget cutter as the concluding act of an almost year-long spending binge that would have made Bacchus blush is simply not credible, as Congressional Republicans were quick to point out.
To that I would add, however, that former President Bush's simultaneous war spending binge coupled with his tax cuts are what turned the federal budget from a revenue producer to a voracious money-eater. I do want to add as well, in Obama's defense, this is not the first time he's called for spending cuts. During the campaign and early in his first year, the president made various claims of cost-cutting, although it's arguable whether any of his attempts made a difference.
And even while the president has talked the talk on budget cuts, he's walked quite a different walk. According to the American Prospect:
It's worth noting that 30,000 additional troops in Afghanistan will cost $17 billion in 2011 [PDF], almost exactly what is being cut from the budget by this maneuver.
The trick in his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama must tell the public what he's doing to right the economy (cutting the deficit) and what he's doing to create jobs (which requires spending.) That's an oxymoron of sorts, as described by the Washington Post:
But even as he emphasizes job creation, which requires new spending, Obama will call for a three-year budget freeze in the fraction of the budget that is aimed at non-entitlement domestic programs. The seemingly incongruous initiatives reflect the conflicting pressures Obama faces: Americans are concerned about the nation's soaring long-term debt, even as they want the federal government to do more to fix the struggling economy.
In the short run, Obama will call for tax cuts for small businesses hiring new workers and some modest initiatives aimed at easing the squeeze on the middle class, aides said. He will seek to expand tax credits for child and dependent care, while limiting annual student loan repayments.
I will say again as I've said in the past, the best thing this president has going for him is the lack of a Republican bench. Are Republicans going to run newly-minted Sen. Scott Brown? He's one of the party's rising stars. It'd be interesting to see his Cosmopolitan nude centerfold distributed nationwide and watch the reaction of the religious right.