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The Obama administration loses the deficit -- and the spending -- argument

This video is not good for the White House. It shows Barack Obama repeatedly, and eloquently, rejecting John McCain's proposal for a "non-defense spending discretionary freeze." We need a scalpel, Obama says, not a hatchet.

The White House can fairly say that they're trying to use a scalpel rather than a hatchet. Their budget doesn't freeze all programs (hatchet!), it freezes the overall numbers, and within that context, cuts some programs and increases others (scalpel!). The Obama administration can also say the budget deficit was larger than expected, and when the facts change, so too do their policies.

But you can't look at this as anything less than a tremendous defeat for the Obama administration. It's not the policy itself. The freeze locks in a post-stimulus, and potentially post-jobs-bill, level of spending. It's not terribly onerous. But it's also the administration's white flag on the argument that the deficit must be understood as a health-care reform problem rather than a taxes and spending problem. This was their most audacious effort to change the way Americans think, and it didn't work. For all the effort Democrats put into building a health-care bill that cuts the deficit, a full 60 percent of Americans think (pdf) the legislation increases the deficit. Only 15 percent think it's a deficit reducer.

It's also evidence of the White House's failure to win the argument over the stimulus. The administration is smart enough to refuse specifically tying the freeze to the recession. But the freeze is entirely a function of voter concerns over the recession. And the fact that those voters think the right response is to cut government spending is evidence that the administration has not convinced them of the basic case for the stimulus, or persuasively explained the basic nature of the recession.

What we have here is a failure to communicate.

By Ezra Klein  |  January 26, 2010; 11:35 AM ET
Categories:  Budget  
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Comments

"What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Replace communicate with lead and the article is ok

Posted by: Holla26 | January 26, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Let's be honest -- all that matters is that the Banksters do well -- their companies bailed out, their taxes kept low.

Obama -- loses the anti-Bankster sentiment to Fox News!!

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 26, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

When did Obama morph into Evan Bayh? How did I miss it?

Obama was supposed to be the greatest communicator since Ronald Reagan. Now it is clear he didn't transform anbything except we have the first African-American President. That is something, but not a whole lot, at least not on the domestic front.

I think it is primarily a failure to try to communicate. He didn't seem to realize he had to sell his policies once he got into office. Is it too late now? Hopefgully not, but this is a really, really depressing move on their part for all the reasons in this and the previous post. This is Jimmy Carter stuff.

Posted by: Mimikatz | January 26, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

"What we have here is a failure to communicate." First off, nice use of a quote from Cool Hand Luke.

But there is an alternative perspective here: perhaps this is an admission by Obama that the public has rejected his policies. Maybe he did communicate but the public simply disagreed?


Did Bush's disastrous attempt to reform social security die because of a "failure to communicate"?

And perhaps the healthcare/deficit argument would have been better received if the reform bills didn't massively increase government spending on health care....

Posted by: MBP2 | January 26, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

>>But it's also the administration's white flag on the argument that the deficit must be understood as a health-care reform problem rather than a taxes and spending problem. >>

That's a very major problem. They should have gone with the Orszag argument that the healthcare bill is needed to fix the deficit. That argument has the virtue of being true, much more important than this "waste fraud & abuse" gimmick and good politics.

Posted by: fuse | January 26, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

>>Maybe he did communicate but the public simply disagreed?>>

Polls consistently show that the public does not understand the healthcare reform bills.

Posted by: fuse | January 26, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I think everyone, including Ezra, is making conclusions about public reaction too quickly. Now, I don't expect pundits (yes, that includes you Ezra) to do anything other than make pronouncements about political ramifications almost 12 hours after a policy is leaked. I don't know what this will mean politically, but everyone who is hinting that the public will reject this move, I think, is jumping the gun. I appreciate that Ezra notes this is not all that onerous, and so I don't think the policy imperils recovery. I also expect that you will see the president announce this freeze at the SOTU, and will receive a bipartisan standing ovation. So long as they maintain the messaging that "this is a start, not a solution," they should be fine.

Having said that, I admit I posted on my Facebook this very video last night. It's fun to point out how Obama was so outspoken in the debates against a freeze. But frankly, the administration is on the right side of the argument, because you can certainly distinguish between the scalpel and hatchet approaches.

Posted by: gocowboys | January 26, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

When you have a media that thinks examining economic issues involves putting a Democrat and a Republican on TV to argue, what can he do? Obama can make his case all he wants in as many speeches as he wants, and every single national network will put a Republican analyst on the air immediately following the speech saying things like "The deficit is causing the recession! The stimulus will cost us $3 trillion!" and so on.

I feel like I am experiencing my fair share of frustration with this administration and their willingness to surrender to the conservative fantasy narrative, but we have a media that is simply unwilling to examine issues beyond soundbites. At the end of the day, when "the earth is flat" is just as correct and broadcast-worthy as "the earth is round," what is the guy supposed to do?

Posted by: cog145 | January 26, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

It's a good thing that only 15% think the healthcare scheme would reduce the deficit. Because it was never explained how -- simply asserted, over and over and over. Sometimes it was "deficit neutral" -other times would reduce the deficit. This idea took a huge suspension of disbelief to swallow, and people finally spit up on it. The eternal peddling of what on the surface appears a falsity, is the #1 reason for public rejection of the plan. People just don't want their lives turned upside down on this kind of speculation and fraudulent salesmanship.

Posted by: truck1 | January 26, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Obama made a real effort to sell his policies. More speeches and interviews in his first year than any previous president. Townhalls and an ABC special. He obviously should have done something different (and easy conclusion for Monday morning quarterbacks) but he certainly did put forth a herculean effort at selling healthcare.

Admittedly, he didn't push the deficit reduction angle, and I've never seen anything that compelled me to believe that the numbers for supposed healthcare budget savings were anything more than statistically modeled wishful thinking.

And, yes, now it looks like he's back-pedalling. But as someone who never thought much of HCR, and really don't think the government getting involved is going to help--or reduce the deficit--based on an ingrained cynicism, I think you should be looking to the Democrats in the house and senate. They've hosed this thing. I don't think Obama told them to look like they were avoiding transparency at all costs. I don't think Obama told them to have a lot of closed door meetings, or necessarily make very public deals that were not just transparently buying votes, but buying votes by exempting states from the very healthcare legislation that was supposed to be so good for them.

No doubt, the Obama administration should shoulder some of the blame--perhaps by not offering enough guidance on the legislation--but the Democrats in the house and senate really made a mess of the legislation (hint#1: don't make it a 2000 page bill; if it's that big, you're doing something wrong) and of selling it to the American people.

And as far as people not understanding what is in the healthcare bill, maybe it's because there are two separate bills in the house and senate, both of which that have been re-jiggered more than once, and a few other alternative bills floating around. And the pledge to get the full text of the bills up and out there has been, ah, neglected. And Republican efforts to force a full reading of the bill, which the Democrats would have gone along with if they had any sense (in my opinion), were shut down . . . again, I have a hard time reading the failure of healthcare as a failure of Obama.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 26, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

When you so obviously and blatantly cave-in to propaganda, what shred of credibility do you have?

Posted by: mayelinden | January 26, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm not excited about this one, but I believe the freeze proposal is telling us some potentially very good news. As I read it, the Obama administration believes the recession is over and they are making decisions based on a post-recession basis. Proposing a freeze locks in current spending levels, neutralizes the fears of the budget hawks, reassures centrists and indicates that the administration doesn't believe more deficit spending is needed.

Posted by: danimal1 | January 26, 2010 12:04 PM | Report abuse

One thing I do fault Obama for is doing the exact sort of things that he said were stupid, or even immoral, during the campaign: taxing healthcare benefits (irrespective of the motivation for doing it), and now freezing discretionary spending.

There are other ways to approach generating tax revenue, paying for healthcare, motivating people to get off expensive healthcare plans, and for managing spending that don't involve doing the exact specific things you lambasted your opponent for a little over a year ago. That just seems like self-sabatoge, to me.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 26, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

90% of the blame for last year's recession is squarely on the shoulders of Bush and the Republican Congress that went on a deficit-spending spree from 2004-2008.

100% of the upcoming double-dip recession will be squarely on the shoulders of Obama and this incompetent, spineless Democratic Congress.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | January 26, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

I do not know about you, but Ezra this is how I understand all this:

- Krugman has basically said that failure to put big stimulus is a big drag. Failure of Admin to properly estimate unemployment has undermined the stimulus too. All in all Kurgman says, entire first term of Obama; it is going to be a gloomy employment news. Obama himself has realized that probably 'the bus' is missed as far as applying right Keynesian response. So what do you do? Admit the reality / defeat and move on.

- He is not saying that, but he is also thinking that it is the fault of Congress not to pass HCR. There is no point wasting any capital on this broken Dem Congress.

- In all probability this Dem Congress will be replaced by GOP Congress. So why bother wasting capital on them? Rather it is better to set politics such that it aligns with what voters are asking - partially Conservative policies and what Congress members will be in days to come; more Conservative.

- Primarily, Obama is rebooting his Politics as 'Republican lite' so he can get 2 terms and in the second term he might be able to do something. Dem Base needs to get over here and grasp the reality. There will be waves after waves of such surrender by Obama. Failure to communicate and all that - who cares; it is lost in the monumental turn which Obama wants to effect.

- Contrary to all his interview, he is trying to get re-elected and same for Congress folks. Public does not want HCR, period. It will not be done, it is that simple. Leadership and all that crap - keep to blogshephere. Reality is very harsh and very different.

- Regan is the model, 'above the fray' is the only path of survival here.

- In all probability, you will be more disappointed tomorrow when SOTU comes.

- All these Republican policies are fine with me, as long as Obama takes on Wall Street. That is doubtful, but just saying. If he were to restructure Fed, remove Bernanke and adopt Ron Paul reforms; that will be good.

Posted by: umesh409 | January 26, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

"This was their most audacious effort to change the way Americans think, and it didn't work."

So matter-of-factly. You really don't find the mere premise alarming in the slightest, Ezra???

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

As a conservative, I just hope the Republicans jump on the bandwagon on this real fast. If we are (supposed to be) the fiscally responsible party, we should encourage fiscal responsibility.
It will be hard for the current administration simultaneously to push spending bills like health care reform. If 15% still believe it actually will cut the deficit, I am astounded at their naivete.

Posted by: MikeR4 | January 26, 2010 12:12 PM | Report abuse

I'm torn. On the one hand, we clearly have only 15% of people thinking the healthcare bill is deficit reducing. On the other hand, I'm so used to conservative trolls that my gut reaction to something like truck1's is to either ignore it or mock it.

Because we're talking here about a failure to communicate the issues to the public, truck1, the healthcare bills were required to be "deficit neutal" by the President in his non-State of the Union. Their cost was to be held to around $900 billion, but that cost paid for by revenue-generating measures. The House bill uses primarily a tax on the wealthy. The Senate bill uses a tax on expensive healthcare plans. The long and short of it is that they raise more revenue than they cost, meaning that they reduce the federal government's budget deficit.

These aren't vague assertions or made up numbers, but are the numbers produced by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. There are some questions about the methods of projection they use, but historically they're more prone to be conservative on cost-saving measures, if anything.

There's also the issue of overall healthcare spending in the country. The public option would have been fully funded by premiums paid by customers, and thus not a drag on the federal deficit. There were arguments, again, supported by the CBO, that the public option would have decreased overall healthcare expenditures in the country because it would create downward pressure on the industry as a whole. Being a new program, there isn't a ton of evidence on this front, but again, it's unrelated to the federal deficit.

The revenue measures in the bill exceed the costs, thus deficit reduction.

Posted by: MosBen | January 26, 2010 12:14 PM | Report abuse

its like McCain has taken over Obama's body.

Quick somebody get Max Von Sydow.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

"At the end of the day, when 'the earth is flat' is just as correct and broadcast-worthy as 'the earth is round,' what is the guy supposed to do?"

But, it's not. We just like to characterize the opinions of others on complex issues as being just like them saying "the earth is flat" . . . when they have the temerity to disagree with us.

And those same folks think you hold the "earth is flat" side of the argument.

There are no actual flat-earthers on broadcast television defending those positions. Last time I even saw someone on television telling me the earth was flat, it was 20 years ago, it was Thomas Dolby, and he was singing it. And it was a very lovely song.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | January 26, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

"A full 60 percent of Americans think the legislation increases the deficit. Only 15 percent think it's a deficit reducer." So 15% are right and 60% are wrong. Remember (from just yesterday!): "Scientific facts are not determined by public opinion polls." How many times have I read on this blog that no one really cares about the deficit anyway - it's just a proxy for economic unease caused by real problems like, oh, for example, 10% unemployment. Why should any politician with a spine base his policies on the preferences of people who have their facts wrong?

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

On the statistical scoring that purported to show that HCR would be deficit neutral, or a deficit reducer, I refer you to Mark Twain: There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.

I was add to that, a 4th and more heinous category of untruth: projections. Projections are predictions, most often of the highly optimistic or "wild guess" variety, dressed in graph paper, made up with heavily massaged numbers, and presented as inevitable when, in fact, it is anything but.

I believe the Project for the New American Century had similar evidence that regime change in Iraq would lead to Democracy sprouting all over the middle east. Hmmm. Waiting. Waiting . . .

Okay, well, maybe that's not a good example. But budget projections for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SS COLAs, and even Medicare Part D have all ended up being wrong. They've always been too low, the programs always end up being significantly more expensive than projected, or scored. And part of the deficit neutral scoring for HCR involved cutting Medicare benefits without indicating how those missing healthcare services would be replaced.

I think the skepticism regarding the deficit reduction potential of HCR is well-earned, and entirely rational.

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

Has anyone noted the CBO's latest breakdown of the effect of the Senate bill on the budget? http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/110xx/doc11005/01-22-HI_Fund.pdf

Some interesting little nuggets here.

Posted by: Policywonk14 | January 26, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

MosBen, I appreciate your attempt to explain the deficit control in the health care bill to us "conservative trolls", and your decision not to mock us (too much).
However, none of that makes you right. I well understand what you've explained, but you don't understand what we are saying.
[I'm going to assume that the numbers would work out the way the CBO says, though I don't really believe that and the CBO doesn't really believe it. They just score the bills the way they are written, even when they include unlikely future actions.]
The federal government currently spends much more than it takes in, causing a growing deficit. It needs to solve that problem, either by raising revenue or by cutting spending. The longer we wait, the more difficult both of these become, as the deficit grows in the meantime.
Raising revenue is not something we can do without limit. Whether by raising taxes or some other way, it hurts, and has diminishing returns.
If we use up the abilities to raise taxes and/or cut spending on something else besides the deficit, they won't be available.
So what we have here is a bill that combines two issues. One, it increases spending by a trillion or so a decade. Two, it raises revenue by a trillion or so a decade. The first increases the deficit. The second decreases it. The net result (aside from whatever it does for health care) is to make it a trillion per decade harder to cut the deficit, because we've used up that ability. Makes sense: After all, you have increased spending.
The analogy is to a person who is drifting into credit card debt, say a couple of thousand a month. So he gets a second job, and buys a boat. If you ask him on it, he says, Look - I've cut my net deficit to 1800/month. Yeah, but now you can't add a second job anymore.

Posted by: MikeR4 | January 26, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

What we have here is a failure to lead. With each passing day, Obama demonstrates his determination to be a one-term President who will leave the country and the Democratic Party in shambles. And this guy was supposed to bring "change we can believe in"! Bushwa.

Posted by: bill0465 | January 26, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"90% of the blame for last year's recession is squarely on the shoulders of Bush and the Republican Congress that went on a deficit-spending spree from 2004-2008."


Hey moron, the "Republican Congress" ceased to exist in 2006.

Posted by: Bob65 | January 26, 2010 1:35 PM | Report abuse

"What we have here is a failure to communicate." Let's drop "to communicate," eh?

Posted by: golewso | January 26, 2010 1:43 PM | Report abuse

All of the angst is premature and out of context. For instance, rather than "the administration's white flag on the argument that the deficit must be understood as a health-care reform problem rather than a taxes and spending problem," it may actually help to make that same point. The amount of money to be saved here is very small, and must be viewed in the context of whatever other proposals are being made, such as the increase in the child tax credit, which by itself will actually put more money into the economy than the "freeze" will take out. Thus, it is not going to lead to a double-dip recession (especially since as I understand it the administration considers one-time (or second or third time) "job" or "stimulus" spending to not be subject to the freeze). Unfortunately the public in general thinks that discretionary domestic spending is THE reason for the deficit. By committing to this "freeze", Obama can say, ok, I am going to make sure that we cut out bad discretionary spending (and BTW these are the choices we have to make to do so) and this is what we will save, BUT it will NOT solve our deficit problem. And he will then say, for that we MUST reform health care. Getting all wound up about the "freeze" is to make the same mistake that the right makes in not distinguishing permanent government spending from temporary anti-recessionary spending and to fall into the trap of the GOP talking points that ALL deficit spending is the same (except on wars, of course). The "freeze", like health care reform, is about the permanent budget. Economic "stimulus", or a "jobs program," is about temporary spending.
I do agree that there has been a failure to communicate-in fact-I think that the fundamental problem of Obama's first year is that he has failed to communicate a big picture of what he wants to do and so has been at the mercy of every reaction to all the small things. But with the SOTU, he will hopefully be giving us the big picture and as a part of that picture, the "freeze" need not be a bad thing. And we should not fall into the trap of not distinguishing this from the McCain "freeze". What Obama is really doing is acknowledging the reality (that pesky thing Bush kept ignoring) that we can only spend so much money in the permanent budget and we have to make choices and the "freeze" may be necessary as a way to force some of the relevant choices. As the side that wants to use govt for positive purposes, we have a stake in changing the widespread belief that govt is not working. Obama is trying to prove that it can and I believe that the "freeze" part of that.

Posted by: gregspolitics | January 26, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

The meme that the health care reform bill would increase the deficit is so pervasive that The Economist stated it as fact in one of its leaders last week.

Posted by: JeffRichmond | January 26, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Serious question.

Does anyone here who fully understands the CBO scoring really believe that the Senate or House bills in actuality would reduce the deficit?

Let's be real here, when you add in the "Doc Fix" provision, which was already passed by the house, the Bills immediately get turned upside down and go from reducing the deficit to adding to the deficit by over $100 Billion.

Let's also not forget all the accounting gimmickry that is used in both the bills, where in reality we pay 10 years worth of taxes and get 6 years of subsidized benefits, if the taxes weren't implemented until the year that subsidized benefits start, it would add another $100+ Billion to the deficit.

Let's also not forget that closing the prescription donut hole is not even included in either of the bills and that's going to be very costly.

Also another question. Does anyone here really believe that this would be run as efficient as the CBO scoring suggests? Don't you believe that there will billions of dollars worth of fraudulent spending in these bills?

I could go on and on regarding the cost of these bills, but I've gone over them ad nauseum, so I'll spare you guys.

What I find funny is that Ezra does his homework, so I know that he sees what I just pointed out, but he is so partisan, that he doesn't bother to bring them up. Why is that Ezra? hmmmmm?

Posted by: Magox | January 26, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

*Does anyone here who fully understands the CBO scoring really believe that the Senate or House bills in actuality would reduce the deficit?*

Anything that brings in more revenue than it costs will reduce the deficit. I think many people have spent so much time deluded that "reducing deficit = spending cuts" that the idea a "new program" could reduce the deficit is inconceivable.

Posted by: constans | January 26, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

He will never communicate why this is "deficit neutral" or even reduces the deficit as long as he has the advisors he does. The return of Ploufe means only that he continues to see speech as manipulation of the public, pure and simple. Of course, the problem is that he is trying to communicate what he must know to be false.

Posted by: truck1 | January 26, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

He DID communicate and we heard him. We understand it raises deficites our grandkids will have to pay.

He also communicated he is NOT above deception. Thus the polls fall...

Posted by: edmondsonpr1 | January 26, 2010 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Open government is not about handing over papers and data. It is about communicating which policies are needed and when. It is about communicating to people why government needs to do things. And that hasn't happened. It is aboout being honest and straight forward. There's something that feels tickstery about this spending freeze.

Posted by: ideallydc | January 26, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I have been in sales all my life and when you have a crappy product no amount of salesmenship(communication) will overcome the facts.

Obama's product is his policy of big government and out of control spending and the American public is not buying it.

It looks like Obama is a political Willie Loeman from the movie "Death of a Salesman"

Posted by: gman6 | January 26, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

MikeR4: "The net result (aside from whatever it does for health care) is to make it a trillion per decade harder to cut the deficit, because we've used up that ability."

NO, because that trillion will be spent anyway on healthcare, along other avenues.

(Considering the cost-control commissions set up by the HCR bill are meant to engage reductions in administrative overhead, it would probably be more than a trillion spent, along other avenues.)

Also, the economy will be growing, and these aren't present value figures, I think, so a trillion over ten years isn't as much as a trillion now.

It's really hard to argue that HCR will increase the deficits, without any evidence more solid than the HCR projections themselves.

Posted by: Lee_A_Arnold | January 26, 2010 2:34 PM | Report abuse

How does a Republic Congress get to be so sanctimonious about deficit spending, when their votes for Bush programs caused it? For example the unfunded benefit of prescription drugs as part of Medicare. Not to mention the two wars.

Posted by: mnicely | January 26, 2010 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Does "discretionary spending" include the trillions wasted on wars Bush lied to start? Does it include obscene amounts of money for weapons systems designed to fight the Soviet Union not the Taliban? Since Reagan, the republican philosophy has been to bankrupt the country to prevent spending on social programs. Punt these over to the private sector (e.g. privatize social security) thereby insuring more billions for industry no matter what the costs or hardships are for average Americans. Put the republicans back in and we will get more tax cuts for the wealthy and industry and nothing for people. It is just the way they do things while scaring the crap out of the populace to keep them cowed.

Posted by: Pearl77 | January 26, 2010 2:39 PM | Report abuse

*Does anyone here who fully understands the CBO scoring really believe that the Senate or House bills in actuality would reduce the deficit?*

Anything that brings in more revenue than it costs will reduce the deficit. I think many people have spent so much time deluded that "reducing deficit = spending cuts" that the idea a "new program" could reduce the deficit is inconceivable.
----------------------------------
Can I have an example of a new spending program that cut the deficit? I guess you think higher taxes and just a bit less spending will reduce the deficit. That is the healthcare bill - it also has a "panel of experts" that are going to reduce medicare growth to 4% per year - how will they do that? Your guess is as good as anybody's. It is an assumption put into the bill simply to make the numbers work. They say they will cut medicare by $500 bil - what recently happened with the "doc fix." Don't listen to what they say, watch what they do. When the guy running for school president says "I promise no more PE class and longer lunches" - are you going to believe him when he just voted to cut lunchtime in half?

Posted by: Holla26 | January 26, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Regarding Obama's inability to communicate his policies, is the question of the moment, but a more fundamental and far reaching question for he, his adminstration and others of color is, if white men can't jump, can a man of color lead? His lack of "on hands" leadership to produce what he promised will have a significant impact on future American politics.

Posted by: Sundance5 | January 26, 2010 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Gee, Mr. Klein, I just read that numbers show that the deficit has been reduced in the first year of the Obama administration. So...you are perhaps..WRONG? And not like 8 years of unfunded Republican tax cuts and unjustified war in Iraq has ANYTHING to do with our present economic woes. That's what I HATE about conservatives. Nothing is their fault especially when it IS their fault!

Posted by: kincseslori | January 26, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Lee_A_Arnold: "MikeR4: 'The net result (aside from whatever it does for health care) is to make it a trillion per decade harder to cut the deficit, because we've used up that ability.'
NO, because that trillion will be spent anyway on healthcare, along other avenues..."
That is your projection. Some of us imagine that the inefficiencies associated with a US federal government program will mean that far less than a trillion would be spent without the program. And if not, the program will end up costing a lot more. _We don't think this will work well, and we think it will waste money that we can't afford to waste._
Presumably some people will also unfortunately end up with less health care without the program, which also means that the program will cost more. Surely that's what you-all are claiming anyhow?
In summary, projections are difficult, and we don't have to accept yours. Certainly we aren't making an obvious mistake because you think your projections are great.

Posted by: MikeR4 | January 26, 2010 2:56 PM | Report abuse

Sundance: "Regarding Obama's inability to communicate his policies, is the question of the moment, but a more fundamental and far reaching question for he, his adminstration and others of color is, if white men can't jump, can a man of color lead? His lack of "on hands" leadership to produce what he promised will have a significant impact on future American politics."
What the hell is the matter with you?

Posted by: MikeR4 | January 26, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

I would substitute "failure to communicate" with a "failure to control the spin".

Posted by: hz9604 | January 26, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

are the same people that argued (correctly might I add) that the Prescription Part D drug program wasn't paid for and thus added to the defecit really trying to argue that if this went through it would be? Forgetting about the "doc fix", the timelines etc is like if Republicans said that "well we don't count non formulary drugs as counting against the defecit".

How about this, "Neither of them are defecit neutral". Kind of like Medicare was, is and ever shall be.

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

You're hallucinating if you believe health-care reform was deficit friendly, and yes, Obama's defeat is America's victory, even if discretionary spending cuts are modest by most standards. As for the original stimulus and any suggestion of more, forget it. You've had your liberal wish list spending spree, it's over.

Posted by: ecrutle | January 26, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Cut Defense & Pentagon Spending.

The US Spends about 48% of the World's Defense Spending.

The whole of Europe is Second, with about 22%.

China aprx 8%
Russia aprx 5%

So where is the serious argument and debate to say we can spend half as much and still be just as safe... but more importantly have the money to invest in our Domestic ventures.

Cut the Defense Budget in Half and we will still be spending far more than any other nation.

Posted by: mcgrupp10799 | January 26, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

should read:

"Kind of like Medicare never was, and never will be."

Posted by: visionbrkr | January 26, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

"It looks like Obama is a political Willie Loeman from the movie "Death of a Salesman" " -Posted by: gman6

Artur Miller was a Playwright not a Screenwriter.

"Death of a Salesman" is a Play.

Posted by: mcgrupp10799 | January 26, 2010 3:16 PM | Report abuse

This Obama has got to be the biggest liar that has ever sat in the White House. He makes LBJ and Nixon look like Boy Scouts. And then he thinks that he will believe him, that has got to be insane. The man is living in some sort of twilight zone.

Posted by: walterndebby | January 26, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

"So where is the serious argument and debate to say we can spend half as much and still be just as safe... but more importantly have the money to invest in our Domestic ventures." Mcgrupp, we have to decide what our Army and Navy are supposed to accomplish. Once we decide that, we can decide how much we need to spend to do that.
If we plan to rule the world, we probably need to spend that much.
If we don't, I basically agree with you.

Posted by: MikeR4 | January 26, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

Seems to not matter what the prez, McCain, or anybody else says, it's ripped apart before any details can be presented. Washington DC is so wrapped up in partisan politics and negative criticism, I don't think we can ever recover.

Posted by: boleson02 | January 26, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

There is a quote that was never truer today than it was when it was first uttered: "The problem with Socialism is that pretty soon you run out of other peoples' money." 'Nuff said.

Posted by: WriterDude | January 26, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Its Passed the Time for Term Limits to End All Career Politicians Who Help Corporate America via...

[Corporate Welfare & Corporate Socialism]

But Reject The Welfare Of The Average Hard Working American Citizen.

The Imbalance is Alarming !!!

Note: Its the Corporation doing the Massive Lay Offs and Massive Firings !!

It seems the Corporate Methodology is to Overwhelm The Unemployment Lines to Guarantee Changes in Washington D.C. [Republicans] to Favor Passing Corporate Legislation and Nothing Else ?

Its a Warped and Twisted Method, But it Appears to be Working...

At The American Workers Expense, All to Keep Things as they are, In Favor of Corporate Legislation and Corporate Protectionism !!!

Posted by: omaarsblade | January 26, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

I agree with boleson02. We need to quit framing everything in the type strident terms used here by Ezra Klein. Hows does it help anyone in any way? The real focus is not that someone can find some way to be critical but is the spending freeze the right thing to do at this time in these specific circumstances and is it being done in the right way. There is room for rational debate on this topic but, in my opinion, no room for more rabble rousing.

Posted by: RockyRetired | January 26, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

I agree with boleson02. We need to quit framing everything in the type strident terms used here by Ezra Klein. Hows does it help anyone in any way? The real focus is not that someone can find some way to be critical but is the spending freeze the right thing to do at this time in these specific circumstances and is it being done in the right way. There is room for rational debate on this topic but, in my opinion, no room for more rabble rousing.

Posted by: RockyRetired | January 26, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

What an unmitagated disaster of a year! "change you can believe in?" yeah, change for the worse! I'm sorry I ever voted for this guy! How about a Democrat?

Posted by: mybandy | January 26, 2010 3:43 PM | Report abuse

If only Republicans could have had their rhetoric enacted:

We could stop the stimulus and have a deep depression, until voters reacted finally and swept the more ignorant Republicans out of office (hopefully leaving the best in office).

Instead, we are going to have an endless debate over whether a stimulus helped or hurt the economy, and it will still be going 10 years from now.

Posted by: HalHorvath | January 26, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

This is the most inept and corrupt Administration (and Congress) in the history of the USA.

Posted by: Ruperb | January 26, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

You are all idiots if you expected change...

http://whybedumb.com/index.php/2010/01/obamas-annual-review-yes-we-can-really/

Posted by: whybedumb | January 26, 2010 4:14 PM | Report abuse

HalHorvath, that is an interesting comment. I felt the same way, in reverse. Greg Mankiw commented at least a year ago that it would be nice if the administration could lay down a clear test, that if ____ happens you can say that the stimulus has failed. Of course they didn't, and there probably was no way to do so (as Mankiw said at the time).
So here we are today with the administration manufacturing numbers for "jobs saved or created" out of thin air, and no one has any idea of the counterfactual. I personally feel that true fiscal conservative policies would bring the country out of the depression far faster, but that's just my religion. Yours says differently, and I don't know a good way to decide. I do resent people pretending they know.

Posted by: MikeR4 | January 26, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

Again, "failure to communicate" assumes a basic progressive integrity to the policies that was not there:

1) Stimulus too small and always looking over it's shoulder at Republican view that tax cuts are the way to go
2) Healthcare bill is embrace of corporate domination of healthcare; single payer was taken off the table unbidden and not used as a chip.
3) Bank Reform was Bank stabilization until a few weeks ago and may still be thus
4) Afghanistan and other military related policies were primarily efforts to present an image to the Republicans and the world

All in all, as others have said this is a failure to lead the country...communication problems stemmed from the failure to lead.

Could Obama have packaged these tepid measures better?...yes. But in packaging them better he would have set off the opposition that he:

a) was fearing in the first place

and

b) triggered anyway.

Posted by: michaelterra | January 26, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

OBAMA and the White House can just do a little spin and tout their successes; like they did with those "2 million created or saved jobs." OBAMA's place in history is already secure - First African American President! History will wash away all of his failures.

Posted by: iphony | January 26, 2010 4:47 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone else feel like our president and his administration have become the "rollover and die" party? One (one!) republican wins an office and it's the end of the democratic party.....everyone now needs to retire and move to the old folks home.

Are you kidding me! Where is the blood and guts of our founding fathers or of all the past Americans who fought and died for what they believed in?

If all it takes for the democratic party to fold and run home crying is one *small* setback, then go home. But the rest of Congress needs to step-up here.....get HC reform done, one way or the other.

Members of Congress have become the "piss & moan" club, capable of nothing more than the simplist of tasks.

Posted by: liberalwesterngirl | January 26, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

RE: "90% of the blame for last year's recession is squarely on the shoulders of Bush and the Republican Congress that went on a deficit-spending spree from 2004-2008."

Uhhh...BigTunaTim, the Dems have controlled Congress since 2006. Keep up the good work, though.

Posted by: mwmillertime | January 26, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

No, Mr. Klein, I get Obama's message loud & clear but I don't like it. And, I understand this health care plan very well. I see where seniors have had over $500 billion of their mandated funds stolen from them for the use of plans for others & then,seniors get their already rationed care cut, as well. I see where a health plan is written with the advice of lobbyists serving the industries which are already charging us too much money. I see Congress having back room deals in which
billions of our $s are being given away to Nebraska & hundreds of millions of $s are being given as bribes to Louisianna & other states for the "yes" votes of these states' Senators. I see where all other states will become victims of these acts because their citizens will have to pay for the shortfalls in covering the costs of this plan, in addition to their own expensive costs. I see preferential treatment given to unions which spoke up to fight the 40% excise tax on Cadillac policies & who get an immunity to the tax until 2018. Who will have to pay for this shortfall of money? Who else will complain & be given special grants?
I see untold taxes that the passing of this bill will require. I see fines & possible imprisonment for those who do not want to buy these plans. This plan is so unequal, so unAmerican, that it is capsizing from its weight of
partisanship & special favors. And, by the way, all of this was done without a word of disapproval by the leader of the land. He cares not for who or how many are being hurt because he will have his plan. If this plan gets jettisoned, we have only Massachusetts to thank because all of my letters & letters of others who are against this bill & have written to Congress, newspapers, etc. about our dislike of it, have been completely ignored by our representatives.Does the great communicator understand what we are saying?

Posted by: afed27 | January 26, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Everything going on lately really just confirms that Obama was very inexperienced last year. But he does learn and we're now seeing Obama version 2.0. Just in the nick of time, with the country completely against his health care, even democratic senators coming out today against the administration's treating of terrorists as common criminals, everyone upset with all of his spending plans at the worst possible time, etc.

Posted by: josettes | January 26, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

'A failure to lead'
That's exactly the problem, but it's not exactly how people interpret it.
In my opinion, he, a somewhat brilliant and understanding man, did not completely understand the implications of the advice he has been given by his 'team'.
They, more driven to perpetuate his electoral image than solve the country's problems, have destroyed him.
Obama came in to change what was happening.
Soon he is briefed (military/international pitfalls, domestic pitfalls, etc.) and he allowed them, out of fear for the country, to completely change his philosophy.
Had he stuck to his guns, out of Iraq, out of afghanistan, out of Guantanamo, quit playing the sucker game, 'where in the world is Al Quaida' now, he would have struck out on his own, right or wrong, and survived the storm.
He is now not his own man.
Al Quaida for instance is not a coutry, and will pop-up anywhere in the world. You cannot invade the world.

You can't always be swayed by advice, only informed by advice.

Do your own thing!

Posted by: kacameron | January 26, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

"What we have here is a failure to communicate."

Ezra,

If the only problem is failure to communicate, the solution is easy. Hire 5 crackerjack speech writers (like yourself) and have Obama deliver the speech in Prime Time early next month. Problem solved! It's a real no-brainer and you are to be congratulated for being the only one smart enough to figure it out.

(One thing in the speech, be sure to point to 50 million jobs created or saved. DO NOT DRAW ANY ATTENTION TO THE 10 PERCENT UNEMPLOYMENT RATE!)

Posted by: mitchflorida | January 26, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Oh please, Erza. The Democratic bills pay for themselves if we accept as fact that Medicare really will be cut by hundreds of millions of dollars, which it can't be since its already going broke. It pays for itself if we accept that making states pay more constitutes cost savings. It pays for itself, if we don't look out more than ten years. This is not a matter of communication; it is a matter of honesty.

Posted by: AmericanOwl1 | January 26, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Klein your sidebar study reference regarding medical malpractice reform is misleading and should be revised. As is stated clearly in the study there is a correlation between malpractice concerns and the increased use of diagnostic and imaging studies. This is by far one of the greatest reasons for increased medical costs as physicians are now forced to exhaust nearly every bit of available diagnostic technology on patients to avoid the charge of incorrect or delayed diagnosis. This is the dirty little secret that the trial attorneys and their media cohorts don't want the public to know. Allowing doctors to use their innate skills, not a cookbook, to diagnose and treat patients in a non predatory medicolegal environment will result in lowered medical costs. Your readers deserve to know this as well.

Posted by: cunn9305 | January 26, 2010 10:23 PM | Report abuse

"Only 15 percent think it's a deficit reducer."

Just goes to show you that you really can fool some of the people all of the time.

Posted by: bgmma50 | January 26, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Tonight on NBC News (Tuesday, January 26, 2010), reporter Samatha Guthrie said that "Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the real drivers of our deficits" or to that effect. This was with Bryan Williams sitting there listening. That statement is absolutely untrue. Social Security has not added a dime to our national debt, and Medicare has added very little. Both have offsets in the payroll tax and, for Medicare, its Part B premiums paid by enrollees. How can this myth continue to be perpetuated at the highest levels?
The truth is that it is the wars, the military and its support, Homeland Security and the interest on the debt, which is primarily from spending on unfunded wars and military operations, that are the primary drivers of the federal debt. To see a pie chart of federal spending that is a much better representation of what our federal spending looks like than what we normally get, go to this link: http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm

Posted by: crossingsg | January 26, 2010 11:30 PM | Report abuse

*He DID communicate and we heard him. We understand it raises deficites our grandkids will have to pay.*

And yet, when the bush tax policies and ridiculous wars did things that were even worse in that regard, you went on a crazy rampage to defend them, even going so far as to screech about how we needed to torture people and how John Kerry was a traitor in order to defend these deficit-exploding, budget wrecking policies. I detect a bit of disingenuousness, if not outright dishonesty on your part.

Republican policies screwed up the budget and ruined the economy. The answer isn't to listen to Republican concerns about these issues now. The answer is to dismiss them ass the ravings of those who were deluded by Bush and thus unqualified to discuss the issue now.

Posted by: tyromania | January 26, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

There's something amusing about watching Obama reinvent himself. By 2012 maybe he'll run as a Republican.

Posted by: josettes | January 26, 2010 11:43 PM | Report abuse

Josettes:
If Obama had run as an Independent, and governed like one and like a Populist, we would have a chance at bringing about change.
We independents do, after all, have a plurality.

But no, he chose to align himself with the hacks of 2008 in order to replace the hacks of 2004 and 2000.

Posted by: TerryOtt | January 27, 2010 3:51 AM | Report abuse

I disagree...we do not have a failure to communicate. The President has a black belt in communicating. What we have is a rejection of the message due to its lack of credibility. Too much of what they are claiming defies logic...and for that matter basic mathematics.

Posted by: stangerone | January 27, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

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