By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Following a string of embarrassing electoral and political defeats, the president has signaled major changes are coming. He is no longer going to be "Your Mama's Obama"--the cool, smooth, rational, post-partisan candidate for president the country was introduced to in 2008. That's out the window in favor of Obama 2.0, the populist firebrand, "fighter for you" who wants to lead a charge rather than simply effect change.
It's a bold effort to redefine what any number of polls, including the Gallup presidential tracking poll, indicate is a failing but not yet unredeemable presidency. Most all the administration's key legislative initiatives have hit the wall in Congress, with members of the president's party increasingly looking for the exits rather than for another term. Obama's response to this has been to change the rhetoric rather than the reality, starting with his new proposal to freeze non-defense, non-security related federal discretionary spending for the next three years.
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.
House Minority Leader John Boehner said in a statement that the American people would be right "to be skeptical about his sudden change-of-heart." Instead, the Ohio Republican said, the president should work with Congress "to adopt strict budget caps that limit federal spending on an annual basis, and put Congress on notice that he intends to enforce them."
"Without the adoption and enforcement of strict annual spending caps," Boehner added, "the federal budget deficit will continue to spiral out of control, and any 'spending freeze' is destined to be a mirage."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, sounding the increasingly common criticism that Obama is not listening, called the proposal "cosmetic" while adding the American people "don't want the administration to push sweeping changes that it wants but to nibble around the edges when it comes to changes the American people want."
There is, however, an even greater reason for skepticism: the proposal, as Americans for Tax Reform--a pro-taxpayer organization--pointed out in a release , does too little to address the consequences of the record levels of spending engaged in by Obama and the Democrats in Congress over the last year.
Among the points made by ATR:
- The Congressional Budget Office had already projected a decline in non-defense discretionary spending over the next few years (from $682 billion in FY 2010 gradually down to $640 billion in 2014)--which can be found on Table 3-1 of the CBO report. Which the group says actually makes the spending freeze "a hike in projected spending over the next several years."
- The so-called "spending restraint" is only "a drop in the bucket." The White House claims the freeze will reduce total spending over the next decade by $250 billion. The CBO says that under current services, the federal government will be spending $42.9 trillion. Even with the freeze, Obama and the Democrats in Congress get to spend, ATR points out, 99.42 percent of what they were planning to.
- Non-defense discretionary spending during Obama's first year in office grew by 17.4 percent. Freezing spending at that level over the next three years would still produce an average annual increase of 5.5 percent, which is faster than both the economy and wages are expected to grow.