8 a.m. ET: 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.
Obama could just ask for some advice on fiscal responsibility from the nation's governors when he addresses them this morning, since nearly all of them are required by state laws to balance their own budgets. And maybe it's those governors who are schizophrenic -- do they want the stimulus cash or don't they? Sunday's talk shows brought forth a parade of Republican governors outlining their own plans for the stimulus money. Bobby Jindal got the valuable lead slot on Meet the Press to explain why he's refusing some of that federal cash. Other governors, including Charlie Crist, are more eager to take the money. As Mark Sanford put it: "There’s a tug of war right now within the party as to where we go next."
Maybe, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, they should all go ... to do a cameo in a Sylvester Stallone action movie! No, that wouldn't necessarily solve any of their states' fiscal problems. But it would probably be more fun than sitting through a long Obama speech this morning. (On a related note, which other governors would be good in an action movie? Jindal likely wouldn't be a great fit as an action hero, though he could play a brilliant scientist. Ed Rendell seems like he could handle the role of an angry policy lieutenant or army sergeant. This seems like it deserves it's own post at a later date.)
Judd Gregg will be in attendance at today's summit, which reminds us that Obama still doesn't have a Commerce secretary nominee or, while we're at it, a Health and Human Services secretary nominee. Hilda Solis -- remember her? -- will finally get a vote to proceed on her nomination for Labor secretary Tuesday on the Senate floor, with an eye toward final confirmation by the end of the week.
February 23, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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