Obama’s political theory


We missed President Obama’s endorsement this past Tuesday of “pay-as-you-go” budgeting along with the accompanying photo opportunity at the White House (above). The Wall Street Journal editorial captured my own reaction:

Some things in politics you can’t make up, such as President Obama’s re-re-endorsement Tuesday of “pay-as-you-go” budgeting. Coming after $787 billion in nonstimulating stimulus, a $410 billion omnibus to wrap up fiscal 2009, a $3.5 trillion 2010 budget proposal, sundry bailouts and a 13-figure health-care spending expansion still to come, this latest vow of fiscal chastity is like Donald Trump denouncing self-promotion.

Check that. Even The Donald would find this one too much to sell.

But Mr. Obama must think the press and public are dumb enough to buy it, because there he was Tuesday re-selling the same “paygo” promises that Democrats roll out every election. Paygo is “very simple,” the President claimed. “Congress can only spend a dollar if it saves a dollar elsewhere.”

Even the AP reported in the lead that the proposal “would allow Congress to borrow tens of billions of dollars and put the nation deeper in debt to jump-start the administration’s emerging health care overhaul.” Tens of billions is a little light, but the point remains.

The Journal also does a good job of explaining Obama’s game:

The real game here is that the President is trying to give Democrats in Congress political cover for the health-care blowout and tax-increase votes that he knows are coming. The polls are showing that Mr. Obama’s spending plans are far less popular than the President himself, and Democrats in swing districts are getting nervous. The paygo ruse gives Blue Dog Democrats cover to say they voted for “fiscal discipline,” even as they vote to pass the greatest entitlement expansion in modern history. The Blue Dogs always play this double game.

The other goal of this new paygo campaign is to make it easier to raise taxes in 2011, and impossible to cut taxes for years after that. In the near term, paygo gives Mr. Obama another excuse to let the Bush tax cuts he dislikes expire after 2010, while exempting those (for lower-income voters) that he likes. In the longer term, if a GOP Congress or President ever want to cut taxes, paygo applies a straitjacket that pits those tax cuts against, say, spending cuts in Medicare. The Reagan tax reductions would never have happened under paygo.

Glenn Reynolds has regularly posted the Heritage Foundation graphic depicting projected budget deficits under Obama under both White House and CBO projections. The numbers defy precedent and understanding, though they are subject to calculation. When incurred, however, the projected deficits are bound to do incalculable harm.

In Glenn Reynolds’s most recent post on the Heritage foundation graphic, he observes that while “it’s fair to criticize Bush for spending — and it’s also fair to point out the disconnect between the criticism of Bush’s spending, and the celebration — or at least covering-for — of Obama’s much greater spending. He’s ‘making it worse.’ Much worse.”

Which leads to an inference regarding Obama’s operative political theory. To hold his photo opportunity and announce his support of a proposal that even the Washington Post editorial board, in its own way, can see through, Obama must believe that the American people are incredibly dumb.

He must believe that, to the extent they are aware of the evidence of fiscal profligacy, they can easily be persuaded he shares their concerns and means to do something about them. Yet the truth is closer to the opposite, and with it Obama is putting a remarkably cynical proposition to the test.


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