Politics

Left erupts over Obama spending freeze proposal

Jon Ward Contributor

The backlash was fast and furious on the left over the news Monday night that President Obama will freeze spending for parts of the federal budget for the next three years.

“This may be the stupidest thing ever,” wrote Jed Lewison, a contributing editor at DailyKos, on his Twitter feed.

“It worked for Hoover,” Micah Sifry, co-founder of the Personal Democracy Forum, wrote mockingly on his Twitter feed.

Not only were there comparisons to President Herbert Hoover, there were also comparisons to John McCain, who proposed a similar idea during the presidential campaign. Obama opposed the idea at the time.

“What concerns me more is the politics,” wrote Nate Silver, a political statistician who runs the site fivethirtyeight.com. “Specifically, the sort of cognitive dissonance that is going to be created in the mind of the average voter when the White House is promising to freeze spending on the one hand … and on the other, trying to defend its stimulus and its health care reform package, trying to excuse the bailout package as a necessary evil, and perhaps trying to champion new programs.”

Conservatives also celebrated the implications.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, said on his Twitter feed that the move would be “a huge ceding of rhetorical [ground]” by the White House that would give Republicans “more leverage” in arguing against Obama’s health-care reform plan and his $787 billion stimulus.

Ezra Klein, a blogger for The Washington Post, put it bluntly.

“This announcement, coming off a week when the administration pointedly refused to stand up for its health-care bill, is not the sort of thing that’s going to excite the base,” Klein wrote.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow invited Jared Bernstein, a top economic adviser to the president, on her nightly show, and then skewered him.

“You guys … are not only not talking about a second stimulus, you’re talking about trying to cut … the budget,” Maddow said. “I have to tell you, it sounds completely, completely insane.”

Bernstein vowed “there`s going to be no stupid Hooverism around here, to use your, I think, very apt term.”

“Spending programs, in order to generate the kind of job growth that we need to offset this — the impact of what was the deepest recession since the Great Depression — generally will fall outside of this freeze,” he said.

But Michael Linden, associate director for tax and budget policy at the Center for American Progress, argued a week ago that this kind of a freeze would make only a dent in the country’s structural problems.

“The federal government spent a bit more than $625 billion on non-defense discretionary programs in 2009. The Congressional Budget Office projects that, in five years, the federal government will spend about $660 billion on the same programs,” he wrote.

“Freezing non-defense discretionary spending at current levels would therefore only produce a total savings of $35 billion in 2015. That year, the budget deficit is expected to be around $760 billion. Saving $35 billion would solve less than 5 percent of the problem. There may be some savings to be found in non-defense discretionary programs, but a spending freeze would accomplish extremely little in the way of measurable deficit reduction.”

Lewison, at DailyKos, expressed his frustration more fully in a blog post.

“Great. A single U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts is now dictating fiscal policy for the next three years,” he wrote. “It might at least make some sense if it were a smart political decision. But there’s nothing to suggest that it’s anything but unalloyed idiocy.”

Rachel Maddow interviewing Jared Bernstein