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Rachel Maddow vs. Jared Bernstein

This conversation between Rachel Maddow, who's skeptical of the spending freeze, and administration economist Jared Bernstein, who's obviously a defender of it, is about as useful a discussion of the freeze's pros, cons and specifics as you're likely to find.

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By Ezra Klein  |  January 26, 2010; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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First off, I used to love Rachel Maddow on Air America. She did not mince words. Not quite as fiery on MSNBC, but . . . well, you take what you can get.

While her assessment of what gets economies moving--government spending! Private sector? What's that?--leaves a little lacking, I tend to agree with her that calling for a spending freeze doesn't seem to actually solve anything. While one can quibble about whether or not deficit spending is good or bad or neutral for the economy, if government spending doesn't help it, freezing government spending isn't going to help it, either. Wealth is generated in the private sector, and while tax rates can have a significant effect of private sector productivity, freezing spending will be, at best, irrelevant.

It will not have a positive effect on the economy, and will thus seem stupid and shortsighted when the economy isn't any better in a year or two, and various government bureaucracies are complaining that they don't have enough money to do their jobs.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 26, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I just saw this clip at TNC's and marveled. Simply marveled. A better example of convoluted and self-contradictory messaging I haven't seen since John McCain's presidential campaign.

If only Jared Bernstein had a green screen.

Posted by: slag | January 26, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

This whole thing...on the one hand I believe it is a response to voters being just fed up - first by 8 years of historically very low employment growth and stagnating middle income wage growth, which was capped off by a massive financial crisis that pretty much wiped away any wealth gains they might have had for the decade. And now fed up by massive un (and under) employment and policiticians who have seemingly turned a blind eye to punishing the people who caused the mess in the first place. So political optics-wise, maybe people who usually don't pay much attention will see that "something is being done" and refocus their attention elsewhere.

But on the other hand the whole thing is just plain stupid. If there are programs that have outlived their use, then cut them out. Fire some government employees who are doing the equivalent of typewriter ribbon repair and hire some others where needed. But no program seems to ever get cut. Excpet when Gore was VP but of course we can't talk about the Clinton administration admiringly anymore.

Maybe the point is that I am fed up. And I am one of the most dependable voters the dems have had in the past 30 years. And I can't be the only one.

Posted by: luko | January 26, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

When Bernstein dropped the names of who he was working with on the freeze, Rohemer, the President and Vice-President and NOT Geithner or Summers is hopeful and I think not an accident in terms of who he choose to mention.

Anything that takes Congress out of the decision making process i s good thing. Spending where it counts and cutting waste with a laser beam instead of a drunken team of surgeons with rusty scalpels.

I'll give the President, VP, Rohmer and Bernstein the benefit of the doubt.

This isn't a sop to the GOP this is using the GOPs tactics and rhetoric to progressive ends.

Posted by: teoc2 | January 26, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

"Excpet when Gore was VP but of course we can't talk about the Clinton administration admiringly anymore."

Hey, Clinton cut the Tea Taster's Board. And wasn't there some sort of Navy or Army dairy operation he cut?

Not faulting Clinton--he cut more than Bush!--but, even so, if the era of big government was over, he coulda cut a little more.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 26, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

The WSJ is working overtime dissing this proposal from every conceivable angle.

As the passage below suggest any savings proposed by the Democrats is meaningless, illusory or counterproductive.

Had this been a GOP proposal the angle of the WSJ first cut on this would be skewed in a completely different direction.

This is what Clinton did so effectively, took the GOP's so-called "sacred ground" and made it his own.


"The freeze would affect $447 billion in spending, or 17% of the total federal budget, and would likely be overtaken by growth in the untouched areas of discretionary spending. It's designed to save $250 billion over the coming decade, compared with what would have been spent had this area been allowed to rise along with inflation."

JANUARY 26, 2010, 11:18 A.M. ET
Budget Freeze Is Proposed
White House Plan Applies to Only 17% of Spending; Small Impact on Deficit

Posted by: hughmaine | January 26, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

In 16 minutes, she couldn't ask: (1) You keep talking about cutting wasteful spending. On what? And how much? (2) You keep talking about helping the middle class. How much spending are we talking about? The stimulus was $700 billion, and it wasn't enough. How can you expect to make any difference with tiny, "targeted" programs? (3) You mentioned that every thing in the budget has a lobby. How is this "freeze" going to help take them on?

Posted by: randrewm | January 26, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

Is Rachel Maddow really just Ezra Klein in drag? I mean really, has anyone seen them at the same place and time?

Posted by: cummije5 | January 26, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Sure. And those two things were probably sacred cows in some member of congress's district. But like Ezra posted, 10 years from now this whole freeze thing will acount for about 34 billion dollars. We keep the Tea Tasters board, but have fewer tea tasters per capita than we did before. Not exactly a compelling argument for smarter government.

Posted by: luko | January 26, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

My response was to Mr Willis...I should have said that.

Posted by: luko | January 26, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Maddow is totally correct. The news is leaked that Obama want's to reduce the budget by 250 billion in ten (10!) years, by a three (3!) year spending "freeze", something vitually all serious economists see as a dire mistake now, and all this Bernstein guy can tell viewers about this is listing all those programs where the dspending will increase? Ten year, three year, less is allegedly more, we only can tell you about increases - this looks like a giant peace of SPIN by the administration! Good luck with that, that Bluedog won't hunt!

Really, a monstuous stupidity, not only the wrong, but also a dishonest signal, and totally irresponsible regarding the economic situtation. That's what they get for listening to that uberidiot Bayh, who will be out of a job next year, according to recent polls!

Posted by: Gray62 | January 26, 2010 1:17 PM | Report abuse

We who are left-of-center need to stop agreeing with the right that all deficit spending is the same. For the right it is all bad and for the left it is all good.
As Bernstein points out, recovery spending is not included in the freeze, including recovery spending still to be authorized, and which will vastly exceed the amount of the cuts in the next fiscal year. The freeze has nothing to do with, and is not in opposition to, a second stimulus. The GOP is trying to use people's fear of the deficit to oppose stimulus on the basis that it is all bad. The president is trying to overcome that by saying that all spending is not the same and that he does not want to spend wastefully, but only productively. As Bernstein points out, cutting wasteful spending is not a "right turn" and to act as if it is is counterproductive to our cause. Those of us who want to use government in a positive way have the most to gain by proving that it will work and that it does not mean wasteful spending. Obama is, I believe, trying to save the Democratic and left of center view of government, and for some reason, Dems and the left want to make it harder for him to do so, which only helps the other side.

Posted by: gregspolitics | January 26, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

Love that woman. We are doomed.

Posted by: antontuffnell | January 26, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse


You do understand the difference between working to cut wasteful spending, and pledging to adhere to a "spending freeze," right?

Because when the numbers don't come in because senators refuse to submit to an elimination of Ag subsidies, those cuts will come out of WIC (or the like). Either that or, more likely, the Obama Admin will be forced to break their promise.

Yet again.

Posted by: antontuffnell | January 26, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

gregspolitics said: "We who are left-of-center need to stop agreeing with the right that all deficit spending is the same. For the right it is all bad and for the left it is all good." I disagree. For the right it is bad when Dems run deficits but fine when they do. Bush didn't pay for ANY of his programs. McCain was out this morning saying tax cuts raise revenue (they don't raise as much revenue as they cost). And the fact that deficits always increase more under Reps than Dems demonstrates that they are and never have been serious about deficit reduction - in part because they don't consider military spending to be spending.

Posted by: wvng | January 26, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

gregspolitics may have actually been a public sector budget analyst once in his life.

He is right that this freeze for the recurring programs to the federal budget does NOT effect stimulus spending which is a quick jolt to the economy outside of this budget freeze. Thise freeze effects the types of programs that are in federal agencies base budgets and just sit there year after year. Some may be good and some may be bad, but all of them together are not affordable and even a liberal Democratic administration is getting that fact. Freezing spending on that stuff while deficit spending on jobs-related short-term jolts to the economy is the right approach.

I only wish the administration would target those programs that foster dependency in the people. It is the spending that sucks the initiative out of people to work their butts off in the marketplace that is making this nation less competitive in a very competitive and increasingly competitive world.

Posted by: lancediverson | January 26, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

Maddow should go back to her old job of goaltending for the Boston Bruins. Dumbest Rhodes Scholar ever.

Posted by: lure1 | January 26, 2010 8:43 PM | Report abuse

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