4:30 p.m. ET: So, what's the most important part of this budget proposal -- tax increases or spending cuts? The answer to that question is particularly important to the Obama administration, which is working to burnish its fiscal conservatism credentials and not be seen as run-of-the-mill tax-and-spend Democrats.
The Associated Press went with an early headline of "Obama promises to slash spending by $2 trillion," which surely brought some smiles in the White House. Of course, it turns out Obama isn't exactly doing that: As a Fox Business blog put it in its own headline, "Obama’s $2 Trillion in 'Savings' Just Higher Taxes in Disguise." Bloomberg also led with the tax piece, titling its main story: "Obama Seeks $1 Trillion Tax Increase in Budget Plan."
And that's before we even get to this year's deficit of $1.75 trillion, which is at the top of the Post's story and others. As Congress takes up the budget fight next week, watch for Team Obama to focus a lot more on the phrases "spending cuts" and "reform" and a lot less on "tax increases" and "record deficits."
8 a.m. ET: Another day, another massive, agenda-setting announcement from President Obama. Look back at all the front pages since Obama was sworn in Jan. 20, and count how many days there have been when the president didn't dominate the news cycle with something he did or was about to do.
It's called the bully pulpit, and Obama is using it to maximum advantage. Tuesday night was his joint address, with its pledges to fix the economy, cure cancer and restore hope to a world in darkness. (As Joel Achenbach wrote, "I kept waiting for him to declare that, before his term is out, we will have colonized Mars.") Today is the unveiling of Obama's budget, with its $634 billion for health care and, we're learning this morning, another $250 billion for bailing out banks. On Friday, Obama will deliver a major speech on "the way forward" in Iraq, including a timetable for bringing troops home. When will there be a "slow news day"? Things have been so busy that People magazine broke the Holy Grail of human-interest stories -- the Obama's are getting a Portuguese water dog! -- on Wednesday and it barely caused a ripple.
This glut of news from the White House has had two primary effects. First, it's been impossible for the minority to get any traction. Obama's ability to set the agenda is so complete that Republicans have been left to reacting to his proposals rather than getting any exposure for their own. The GOP did have a separate stimulus proposal, but it never got much play. The party will likely have its own budget plan too, and that probably won't get much attention either.
The second effect is that we've become numb to the news. So much has been proposed, and so many billions of dollars have been spent, that no one proposal seems to be getting the attention it would otherwise merit. Obama's announcement last week that he was sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan was not the dominant story it could otherwise have been. News of his Iraq withdrawal strategy leaked Tuesday, but was swamped by the big speech. Yesterday, the House passed a $410 billion omnibus spending bill that includes hefty domestic funding increases and thousands of earmarks. It didn't make the front page.
What does all that mean for Obama's health care reform proposal? Maybe the fact that he is planning more tax increases on the wealthy to pay for the plan will slip by with a quieter-than-usual debate. But it might also mean that Obama will have to slow the pace of new announcements if he really wants to move major health care legislation this year. Such an effort requires a concerted lobbying effort and maximum focus, something that won't be possible if Obama keeps focusing on the banks one day, Iraq the next, then the foreclosure plan, and so on. Obama has shown that he can use the bully pulpit. Now he can show that he knows how to use it sparingly.
February 26, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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