On Budget, a Split Personality for Obama
By Ben Pershing
Is President Obama suffering from an acute case of political schizophrenia? A week after signing the largest single spending bill in history, one that he acknowledges will swell the deficit, Obama will convene a "fiscal responsibility summit" at the White House today. And a week after hailing a stimulus measure meant to get the economy moving by increasing spending and cutting taxes, Obama will deliver the outline of a budget that will cut spending and increase taxes.
Obama may well seem schizophrenic, but he is also responding to the public mood. Whatever the specific details of the stimulus package, voters' desire for a big-ticket measure to get the economy moving again was always clear. At the same time, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows that "deep public worry about the federal budget deficit has jumped since December." That could explain why Obama plans to push tough new budget rules, which would require mandatory spending cuts or tax increases to offset any spending increases or tax cuts that boost the deficit. Of course, Congress has supposedly operated under similar rules since Democrats took power in 2007, but the rules are regularly flouted.
Today's White House summit is nominally about entitlement reform, and as The Fix notes, Judd Gregg says that putting Social Security on a sounder footing isn't so hard from a technical standpoint. "It's the politics that are very hard," Gregg said. The same could be said of reducing the deficit. Doing so will likely entail some combination of spending cuts and tax increases, but what combination? Republicans almost certainly will oppose allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire, while many Democrats will protest if Obama seeks to slash domestic spending. The administration foresees a reduction in funding for Iraq and Afghanistan, but events on the ground -- particularly in the latter country -- may well frustrate that plan.
Posted at 8:18 AM ET on Feb 23, 2009
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