The Trail: A Daily Diary of Campaign 2008

Archives

Dan Balz's Take

Small Cuts Will Do Little to Tame Deficit


President Obama speaks on the FY2010 federal budget as White House Budget Director Peter Orszag (L) and Deputy Budget Director Rob Nabors (2nd-L) listen at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

By Dan Balz
Restraint has not been the hallmark of President Obama's first budget. To attack the weak economy and to fulfill campaign promises on health care, energy and education, he has proposed spending and deficits on an unprecedented scale.

Obama has long insisted, however, that fiscal restraint is an integral part of his budgetary strategy and today he sought to prove that by releasing a list of 121 proposals that would cut a total of $17 billion from the 2010 budget.

They represent a modest down payment on a significantly larger problem. The proposals are too small to impress his critics (or reduce deficits significantly) but possibly too large for Congress to swallow. Obama will have to do much more to make good on his pledges to tame the deficits that will be left once the economy is solidly in recovery.

To date, the president's rhetoric exceeds his results. He has long said he would require his team to scrub the budget "line by line" for savings. Today's release is the product of that review, though an administration official was careful to call it "only a step in the process" of dealing with the deficit problem.

Many of the reductions, while worthy, represent small change: $35 million to eliminate a long-range radio navigation system rendered obsolete by the availability of global positioning satellites; $632,000 to cut the educational attaché posted in Paris; $1 million for a fellowship program that delivers only 20 percent of its money to fellowships.

Earlier he made a point of assembling his Cabinet and ordering them to go back and look for other reductions, but the goal was only to find another $100 million, a pittance in a $3.5 trillion budget. The biggest cuts in today's package, which come in defense, were outlined earlier by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

The president put the best face on today's budget. "We can no longer afford to spend as if deficits do not matter and waste is not our problem," he said in his formal remarks. "We can no longer afford to leave the hard choices for the next budget, the next administration, or the next generation."

In reality, in the short term, deficits do not matter much to the administration. His aides would say that's justifiable given the scale of the economic recession that greeted them in January. They have decided to spend freely to jumpstart the economy and to reduce the resulting deficits later.

An attack on government waste, as necessary as that may be, cannot solve the problems he is helping to create. Administration officials insisted that $17 billion in cuts in one budget is a significant accomplishment and that they will redouble efforts in future budgets to keep paring away.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, in a statement this morning, underscored the real challenge for Obama if he is serious about attacking the deficit. While applauding the efforts of the administration to scrub the budget for possible cuts, he said the same focus is needed to attack the long-term fiscal imbalance facing the country.

"As important as program terminations and cuts are, we should not lose sight of the far larger threat to our nation's finances -- the combination of the retiring baby boom generation, rising health care costs and our outdated and inefficient revenue system," he said.

Obama has signaled his intention to tackle those problems at some point. His budget already proposes changes in Medicare to rein in that program, but those savings would be used to offset the cost of expanding health care coverage, not to reduce the deficit. What more he's prepared to do on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security -- and whether he can win support for real entitlement reform -- isn't yet known.

The administration faces resistance from two directions. Congress has frustrated numerous administrations that have sought to trim obsolete programs. There's no reason to expect a different outcome now. As House Budget Committee Chairman John Spratt (D-S.C.) said in his statement today, "While the Congress is unlikely to agree with all the changes proposed by the Administration, the process and the resulting proposals are a step in the right direction, and a sign of fiscal discipline."

The other resistance comes from Democratic constituencies -- and lawmakers -- who have any number of ideas for spending more money. Obama ran into this during the fight over his stimulus package, which despite its enormous size was not big enough to accommodate all the things Democrats wanted to do. Those initiatives will be back.

Administration officials are insistent that they have made tough choices. A very senior official recently told several Post reporters that agency officials went through very difficult negotiations with OMB over the size of their budgets and were often frustrated by the hard line laid down by the president and OMB. What he meant was that the agencies had many more spending requests than they were granted.

That acknowledgment, that constraining the agencies rather than forcing even bigger cuts represented a real accomplishment, underscores why Obama's desire to bring more discipline to the budgetary process will require constant attention and a bigger strategy.

At a time when the public generally supports Obama's economic initiatives, there is some concern over the size of the deficits his policies are creating. The most recent Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that only 51 percent of the public approved of his handling of the deficit. Among independents, who are critical to maintaining Obama's political standing, not quite half approve of his handling of the deficit.

That's little more than an early warning sign for Obama, who has more immediate economic problems to solve. But administrations often find that other priorities are more important than dealing with the deficit. Obama has continued to talk about his commitment to doing so. Today's budget is a reminder of how difficult it will be to make good on his promise.

Posted at 1:08 PM ET on May 7, 2009  | Category:  Dan Balz's Take
Share This: Technorati talk bubble Technorati | Tag in Del.icio.us | Digg This
Previous: Gingrich, Bloomberg and Sharpton Pay Obama a Visit | Next: Dobson 'Disappointed' Obama Skipped Day of Prayer Ceremony


Add 44 to Your Site
Be the first to know when there's a new installment of The Trail. This widget is easy to add to your Web site, and it will update every time there's a new entry on The Trail.
Get This Widget >>


Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



Sorry, it is still early in the morning here. Revised version.

I am not sure why the Administration insists on publicizing these token budget cuts because it only makes the President look bad.

They seem to like to be put themselves in a position where they can say: "(fill in the blank) dollars may not seem like much money in Washington but to regular people it is." First Robert Gibbs said it and then the President said it. It might be a good one time one liner but is hardly an explanation for these inadequate budget cuts.

The initial $100 million cuts were a joke and contained things that were not cuts at all. One item was savings that would occur if office supplies were bought in bulk quantities. Why had that not been done before?

The latest $17 billion in cuts contains items that will be restored by Congress so the President can get credit for cuts without even cutting.

The guys in the White House are not stupid so I wonder why they keep putting out these symbolic budget cuts that insult peoples intelligence. It seems to make the Administration the subject of ridicule.

Mitt Romney said it was like a store raising its prices 1000 percent and then lowering them one percent and announcing that they were having a sale. Since these budget cuts have a neglible effect on the deficit maybe it would have just been better to keep quiet rather than give people such as Romney fodder.

Maybe the Adminstration should just make the case that the deficits are necessary now to see us through the recession and that once a recovery occurs they will look at really reducing the deficit rather than offering these phony and symbolic budget cuts that only make the White House look ridiculous.

Posted by: danielhancock | May 9, 2009 11:02 AM

I am not sure why the Administration insists on publicizing these token budget cuts because it only makes them look bad.

They seem to like to be put in a position where they can say: "(fill in the blank) dollars may not seem like much money in Washington but to regular people it is." First Robert Gibbs said it and then the president said it. It might be a good one time one line but I am not sure if it resonates in the long term.

The initial $100 million cuts were a joke and containted things that were not cuts at. One item was savings that would occur if office supplies were bought in bulk quantities. The latest $17 billion cuts contain items that will be restored by Congress so the President can get credit for cuts without even cutting.

The guys in the White House are not stupid so I wonder why they keep putting out these symbolic budget cuts that insult peoples intelligence. It seems make them the subject of ridicule.

Maybe they should just make the case that the deficits are necessary now to see us through the recession and that once a recovery occurs they will look at really reducing the deficit rather than offering these phony and symbolic budget cuts.

Posted by: danielhancock | May 9, 2009 10:39 AM

The cuts from the three trillion dollar budget are a joke. This is the same as removing a teaspoon of water from a filled bath tub shouting look how much water I saved.

Posted by: EZ2C | May 8, 2009 7:06 AM

The cuts from the three trillion dollar budget are a joke. This is the same as removing a teaspoon of water from a filled bath tub shouting look how much water I saved.

Posted by: EZ2C | May 8, 2009 7:04 AM

It's amazing to me how many bloviators expect Obama to resolve the structural deficit in the budget within the first year of his presidency. Was he supposed to reform ALL entitlement programs in his FIRST budget without painstaking consultations with Congress that will fight him every step of the way? They don't even want to cut 17 billion from the current budget!!! Does anyone remember all of the summits he held with Congressional members and every interest group a couple of months ago, to get the process started? Back then he was being criticized for doing too much too soon instead of focusing on the economy?

It's as if he would have been better of not doing ANYTHING!

It's also very dishonest to imply that the massive debt will be caused by his new spending in education, energy and healthcare - a total waste of money according to some.

The so-called 10 trillion dollar debt that fiscal conservatives keep harping about is largely due to escalating Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security costs. Part of his healthcare program would be dedicated towards identifying waste and inefficiencies – gee, what a terrible idea! Should the government continue let public education deteriorate so that the next generation of American workers will be ignorant and illiterate? How are they going to pay for your monthly Social Security benefits if all of the best paying jobs have been shipped to India, China, Japan and European countries where people actually graduate from high school and university. What will we do when gas cost $5.00 a gallon again?

How awful it is for taxpayers to have a forward-thinking President who is willing to take it from all sides and all ends because he wants America to remain an exceptional country. He isn’t right about everything, but he’s actually putting his neck out there and trying to make a difference. Maybe politicians, taxpayers and columnists should be asking thoughtful questions and offering constructive ideas to tackle the long-term deficit instead of acting like a bunch of insatiable whiners.

Posted by: Eve1978 | May 8, 2009 4:59 AM

Poor Republitards; just whining for the sake of whining.

No wonder your party is losing support.

Posted by: camera_eye_11 | May 7, 2009 9:19 PM

To say that $17 billion represents a "modest down payment" is being entirely too generous. It represents about 1.5% of Obama's own projected deficit for FY 2010, which is considered optimistic by the CBO.

Posted by: orange2299 | May 7, 2009 8:50 PM

Everyone knows that the real cuts ought to be from the military and entitlements both. Its that simple. We are beyond our means for defense and for promising stuff to our people. Unless someone has a wicked good idea to make us suddenly more productive, we are going to need to take drastic measures and fast.

Posted by: paulnolan97 | May 7, 2009 8:22 PM


In case you haven't noticed, President Obama doesn't waste a lot of energy trying to "impress critics", to his credit. Regardless how how tough the fight is, what is important here is setting the precedent. The first cuts have to be made, to demonstrate it can be done. Those in the dissenting party who might be tempted to say they won't support these cuts because they aren't big enough are going to look pretty stupid. But looking stupid doesn't seem to be much of a concern to today's "meathead minority".

Posted by: kenhyde | May 7, 2009 6:48 PM

I am disgusted that, time and again, Mr. Obama blames American Citizens for being "irresponsible". He seeks to "guilt" us into accepting his outrageous and destructive policies and budget as "atonement" for our irresponsible behavior to "society". Guess what - you can stuff that back in your pie-hole, Mr. Obama. America has whatever wealth and freedom because of me and my fellow Citizens sacrificing our time and lives for each other. This clever rhetorical ruse makes me wonder if indeed you do embrace the words of your spiritual adviser..."God damn America". Mr. Obama is over-matched to his responsibilities, and undeserving of his office.

Posted by: kondrek | May 7, 2009 4:38 PM

How much of a cut would be required for reality to match rhetoric? It seems to me that $17 billion is a nice start. If Obama had added $17 billion there would have been a huge headline about runaway spending. It appears that Obama's budget matches his election promises pretty nicely. He was elected on these priorities so it would appear that the majority of Americans support his budget. The fact that critics speak against him is not news anymore. The GOP has yet to realize they have to offer something constructive rather than criticizing what Obama proposes. Change has come to Washington!The impact is much greater than can be reflected in dollars and cents.

Posted by: cdierd1944 | May 7, 2009 4:35 PM


EXTRAJUDICIAL PUNISHMENT NETWORK.


Google it.

You, a close relative -- or the Obama administration -- could become its next victim.


http://nowpublic.com/world/gestapo-usa-govt-funded-vigilante-network-terrorizes-america

http://nowpublic.com/world/bush-torture-memos-oked-radiation-weapon-use-americans-too

OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):

http://NowPublic.com/scrivener

Posted by: scrivener50 | May 7, 2009 4:11 PM

st john
i know why

bush tried to make it seem...
within his first 30 days in office...
that the additional 6 trillion he put onto the deficit....
under the guise of a "tax cut"......
was FROM GOD, by way of his presidency.
Baby Bush made America believe he knew what he was doing. That this would give us that american dream. Normal life would not continue in america if his tax plan did not happen.
As in, I am a Bush and i know the best for the country (and because my dad told me so)

then, he --and all that he did, went unchecked.
President Obama comes in and tells the truth of THIS MESS....and people won't believe it.
They will not believe that one political term of 8 years, under someone like a Bush family member, can railroad this country big time.
Maybe they don't know politics or their "local scene of politics".
They listen to press.

But they are alike. What a joke.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 7, 2009 4:04 PM


----
121 proposals that would cut a total of $17 billion from the 2010 budget.

i'll take it. the press is already making this MAJOR cut --sound like nothing or not enough. Geez press, nothin' good enough for ya any longer?

yes rovner...it can be spent elsewhere and spent better.

dcn1- not that easily done.
"........review the Interstate Commerce Clause he could easily find 20-30 times this 17 billion savings in programs and agencies are not legitimate functions of the federal government."
--this is exactly what Al Gore did to the Code of Regulations. Cut 14 volumes of red tape put there by #41. It took 6 years for that project. You know the USCODE, don't ya? Those regulatory requirements of the loan industry, banking and mortgage industry that went unchecked while Baby Bush was in office.

also,...
"Unfortunately the Democratic Party uses this extra-constitutional pork and pandering spending as a modern iteration of the patronage system. His parasitic base would never forgive him for interfering with their gravy train"

dcn1--you are talking about the GOP aren't you?????
i think 121 proposals (tea tasters in maine) at 17 billion is an example of cutting the pork you speak of.
and please...patronage system. Must be the repulsives! No one else like repulsives line the pockets of their friends, acquaintances, and cohorts.
Hey, they even rig elections. (remember, at all costs).
Yeppers, just look at the past 7 years of regulatory requirements being broken.
But hey, the repulsives don't do pork now, do they?
nah, no 87,000 area rugs while i talk your family into a home they can't afford in 3 years.


Posted by: TheBabeNemo | May 7, 2009 3:57 PM

Does it seem like Bush and Obama are more alike than many people thought? Different presentation but very close in action so far. Why is the national debt question more of a joke now than it was under Bush?
Do most people still feel they are in for a tax REDUCTION?

Posted by: StJohn1 | May 7, 2009 3:30 PM

If the former constitutional law professor would review the Interstate Commerce Clause he could easily find 20-30 times this 17 billion savings in programs and agencies are not legitimate functions of the federal government.

Unfortunately the Democratic Party uses this extra-constitutional pork and pandering spending as a modern iteration of the patronage system. His parasitic base would never forgive him for interfering with their gravy train.

Posted by: dcn1 | May 7, 2009 3:26 PM

Can we stop talking about symbolism, and just answer the question: can THESE $17 billion be better spent somewhere else?

As a percentage, it may not be a lot. As $17 billion, it's $17 billion.

Posted by: rovner | May 7, 2009 3:06 PM

1) President Obama repeatedly stated that he will look at every line item of the budget, cut those that have not and will not work and make those that are working stronger

2) No matter what the right wingers think: The mess left behind needs to be fixed. And one can only fix it by "DOING SOMETHING OTHER THAN SAY NO"

3) New unemployment filings are down, construction and manufacturing increased the last 3 weeks. Like the President promised, success will come, but it will take some time.

4) If the right would take their heads out of their behinds and support the efforts made to fix their mess, success would come a little bit faster

Having said that, the right wing ignorance is so disturbing to our country it's not even funny

Posted by: mackiejw | May 7, 2009 3:04 PM

I think it is a hoot and howl. Everyone complains about how the deficit is so bad, but we can't cut huge subsidies to rich farmers. We can't tax people who spirit their corporations overseas (after taking huge tax cuts and then hiding the profits out of the reach of any taxes). We can't cut the military. We can't raise taxes on the rich. We can't . . . We can't . . . We can't . . .

Let's face it. There is a lot of hypocrisy in all of this. At least President Obama is flushing some of the problems out of the bushes and after the recession is in hand, he may well try to deal with them. Listen to people scream then.

Posted by: tinyjab40 | May 7, 2009 2:52 PM

Where do they be getting these drunk poster from?

And for the record

Bush HAS LEFT US WITH DEBT THAT WILL CALL FOR YEARS AND YEARS OF DIGGING OUT

IT KILLED 4000 TROOPS

IT KILLED THE BLUE CHIP BILL

IT KILLED AFFORDABLE HEALTH CARE FOR SENIORS AND CAME WITH SOME CRAP CALLED PLAN A OR PLAN B OR PLAN D

AND I BE DAMN IF I PAY YEARS AND YEARS IN THE TAXPLAN

AND THEN TURN AROUND AND GET AN ATTITUDE WHEN THE GOVERNMENT WANT TO HELP ME IN THIS CRISIS

I HAVE NO DA*M PROBLEM WITH MY TAXPAYING MONEY HELPING ME OUT RIGHT NOW!

NO ONE WANTS BIG GOVERNMENT

BUT AT THE SAME TIME

NO ONE WANTS A REPUBLICAN EITHER

Posted by: danson1 | May 7, 2009 2:52 PM

Neither the dishonest leftist in the White House nor the corrupt party running the House and Senate know how to spell restraint, much less act with it.
What deplorable scumbags they all are.
Profligae spending and borrowing are major causes of the financial crisis, but these idiots are doing it wholesale now.
I hope the decent, productive Americans, who are being fleeced by these pieces of feces wake up soon.

Posted by: LarryG62 | May 7, 2009 2:48 PM


We aren't asking that Obama fix everything. We're asking only that he be honest with us, as he said he would be during the campaign.

Posted by: WylieD | May 7, 2009 2:30 PM

"We can no longer afford to leave the hard choices for the next budget, the next administration, or the next generation."

Obama does exactly that...leave the hard choices for the next generation and administration. Rather than attack the core of the problem by overhauling Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, Obama is just nipping at all of the other stuff in the budget. Here is a place where he is deliberately lying to you to make you think he has made hard choices. He has not. He put off entitlement reform.

Another thing he points to is waste, fraud and abuse. The thing he will not point out to you is that when one grows the government as Obama has, and adds Trillions of dollars in discretionary bailout spending to the Treasury department, he has necessarily increased the liklihood of waste fraud and abuse by just the sheer size of the sector of our economy now controlled by the government.

For instance his bugetary oversight promised on the FY09 budget is a website that will be up in 2010 (spring), which only will track the state and locality where the money was spent, not the contractors. Again there is a promise to be a careful watchdog, but in practice there is no watching going on and it is purely up to individual taxpayers and journalists to spot and bring to light waste fraud and abuse in these programs.

Did you know that FDR promised balanced budgets in his early years, but during the depression consistantly ran up debts? FDR also embraced the failed economic idea of underconsumption. Underconsumption blames malaise because rich people have most of the money, and were it in the hands of average people, more consumption would occur. This was the idealogical basis for progressive taxation, which continues today, long after that economic theory was disproven. Obama follows that progressive taxation modely by eliminating social security payments for low income Americans and suggesting means testing for people who paid. Redistribution which was originally justfied in the name of thwarting underconsumption now continues under this crazy notion of 'fairness', in which those who consume the most government services pay the least in taxes.

Posted by: Wiggan | May 7, 2009 2:02 PM

And when you walk a mile....

YOU START OFF ONE STEP AT A TIME....

EVEN GOD DIDN'T BUILD THE WORLD IN ONE DAY

Posted by: danson1 | May 7, 2009 2:01 PM

These guys are great at spending taxpayers money! Get ready for hyper-inflation!

Posted by: tellall1 | May 7, 2009 1:56 PM

So he's expected to resolve two wars, fix the economy, fix health care, fix our dependence on foreign energy AND massively cut the federal budget in the first 100 days?

Posted by: mikem1 | May 7, 2009 1:50 PM

Is anyone really surprised that reality doesn't match rhetoric?! Come On....

Posted by: lovinliberty | May 7, 2009 1:29 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2009 The Washington Post Company