David Axelrod tries to explain why defense spending has been excluded from President Obama's discretionary spending freeze:
"We live in a dangerous world," Axelrod said in trying to justify the special exclusion for the defense budget. "What we can’t do at a time when we’re in two wars and we have a very determined enemy in Al Qaeda, we can’t stand down," he added in an interview with Fox News. Yet, rather than carve out an exclusion to fund troops in the field, the administration opted for a more expansive exclusion. And while cuts might indeed be made to certain programs, the overall Pentagon budget will be allowed to increase without having to face the difficult tradeoffs that other departments will.
Paul Krugman, meanwhile, takes on the Administration's deficit peacocking:
Last week, the Center for American Progress, a think tank with close ties to the Obama administration, published an acerbic essay about the difference between true deficit hawks and showy "deficit peacocks." You can identify deficit peacocks, readers were told, by the way they pretend that our budget problems can be solved with gimmicks like a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.
One week later, in the State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a temporary freeze in nondefense discretionary spending.
As Krugman point out, the freeze proposal obscures the fact that President Obama's health care reform initiative will have a far greater impact in reducing the budget deficit over the long-term than this freeze will. (I'd also add that President Obama's commitment to letting the Bush tax cuts expire will have a bigger impact as well.)
And as Krugman also points out, despite the inherent gimmickry of the freeze proposal, the larger problem here isn't President Obama, but rather a political culture that is broken and and a U.S. Senate that is dysfunctional. The freeze gimmick was designed to give political cover to foolish Senators like Evan Bayh, who think that peacocking on the budget deficit is their path to political salvation.
Bayh and senators like him would be smart to remember that if on the one hand they embrace things like the freeze but on the other hand get in the way of health care reform and support things like Bush's tax cut for the wealthy, they are in fact working against the very thing they profess to care about: fiscal responsibility.
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