Emptying the Sea with a Teaspoon

We here in the Budget Brigade have been trying to get our heads around President Obama's announcement that his FY 2011 budget will propose freezing non-security discretionary spending at 2010 levels. Here's what has us beating our heads against our desks:

As a policy, trimming $250 billion over 10 years from a $6 trillion budget deficit (over the same time period) is like, well, it's like saving $250 to buy a $6,000 car. And while Obama makes no real headway in reducing the deficit he will succeed in cutting off funds for programs that millions of Americans depend on, especially in an economy with 10 percent unemployment.

As a political gimmick move, I don't really see the benefit here. This will likely dampen support from the left, and after Obama refused to stick his neck out for key progressive elements in health care, support in Obama's base is rapidly thinning. The right, meanwhile, will bash pretty much anything proposed by Obama, so he definitely won't pick up support there. Remaining are the center-right and center-left so-called independent voters who, at the end of day, just want to have jobs no matter the size of the deficit.

And that Obama is merely putting a cap -- and not an across-the-board freeze - on domestic discretionary spending is especially troubling, because when congressional appropriators working within this framework get down to business this summer, it will be they who decide which programs get cuts and which programs get bumps. And in Washington, those with the loudest political voice (i.e moneyed) will see their favored programs thrive, while marginalized populations who can't afford big time lobbyists will see their programs cut.

So, we could end up with is a budget that 1) has negligible impact on the deficit; 2) shortchanges vital human needs programs and institutions that protect the public; 3) keeps many progressives home in November; and 4) does nothing to generate political capital to help Obama advance his legislative agenda.

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