Yesterday, during the State of the Union, President Obama decided to call for a five-year freeze on non-military discretionary spending. A whole 66 percent more spending freeze than last year’s call for a three year freeze! On every level, this random call to freeze spending at current levels is foolish political theater at its worst.
To begin with, non-military discretionary spending totals only a fraction of the actual federal budget. Freezing it will do almost nothing to actually deal with our long-term deficit. It is a talking point pretending to be a solution.
If Obama actually thinks there are wasteful discretionary programs, like ethanol subsidies and farm subsidies, he should just directly call for those programs to be eliminated. If ending a bunch of bad corporate welfare programs results in an overall cut in discretionary spending, that is good.
By the same token, if there are truly great programs that would dramatically help the economy, they should get the funds they need. These good programs necessary funding shouldn’t be solely dependent on reaching an agreement to cut an equal amount from other non-useful, non-military discretionary spending.
Deciding what the budget should be in five years is purely a fool’s errand.A budget should be drafted based on the realities facing the country at that point, not dictated by some pandering, old promise meant to score political points. If the entire Mississippi River has a five hundred-year flood in 2014, causing hundreds of billions in damages, devastating a large swath of the country, it would be irresponsible to hold spending as some artificial level decided years prior. While this is an extreme case, we are a dynamic country in an ever-changing world and our government needs the flexibility to respond to the moment.
If Obama wanted to commit himself to long-term deficit reduction, a more efficient government, or eliminating specific waste, that would be fine. On the other hand, re-enforcing the narrative that the solution to the complex job of governing is parrotting the ill-conceived political buzzwords of your opponents should be beneath a president that aspires to be a “pragmatist.”