About Time

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on November 13, 2009

It took long enough, but the White House has finally decided to focus on deficit-reduction. The question is whether this newfound tendency towards frugality has come in time:

President Barack Obama plans to announce in next year’s State of the Union address that he wants to focus extensively on cutting the federal deficit in 2010 – and will downplay other new domestic spending beyond jobs programs, according to top aides involved in the planning.

The president’s plan, which the officials said was under discussion before this month’s Democratic election setbacks, represents both a practical and a political calculation by this White House.

On the practical side, Obama has spent more money on new programs in nine months than Bill Clinton did in eight years, pushing the annual deficit to $1.4 trillion. This leaves little room for big spending initiatives.

On the political side, Obama can help moderate Democrats avoid some tough votes in an election year and, perhaps more importantly, calm the nerves of independent voters who are voicing big concerns with the big spending and deficits. Even if Obama succeeds – and that’s a big if – it will be tough for many Democrats to sell themselves as deeply concerned about spending after voting for the stimulus, the bailouts, the health care legislation and a plan to address global warming, four enormous government programs.

“Democrats have to reassure voters we are not being reckless,” said a Democratic official involved in the planning. “The White House knows this and that’s why we’ll be hearing a lot about reducing the deficit early next year. Democrats owned this issue for the past four years and cannot afford to cede it to Republicans now.”

Now that the budget deficit is in the trillions, we are supposed to be “reassured” that the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress “are not being reckless.” And of course, the reason for this desire not to be reckless has nothing to do with the crafting and implementing of responsible fiscal policy for its own sake, but rather, stems from the Obama Administration’s desire not to suffer electoral losses in the 2010 midterms. If the Administration and Congress could get away with it, the spending spree would resume anew, irrespective of how parlous our fiscal situation has become thanks to the spending undertaken thus far by the Administration and Congress.

Anyone reassured yet?

Me neither.

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