The Politico reported today that, in his 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama is going to announce a serious focus on deficit reduction:
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.
As Andrew Sullivan wrote, “this classic Politico piece — in as much as it regurgitates almost comically process-oriented Beltway wisdom — fails to mention a few things about Obama’s spending in his first year,” including: the recession, that health care reform is paid for, and that “there’s a big big difference between spending on green and infrastructure investment and slashing taxes or increasing Medicare entitlements.” Chris Hayes added “there’s one big maddening conceptual error at the heart of this piece…which is to confuse relatively substantial pieces of domestic legislation with a spending ‘binge.'”
But if true, what does the administration mean by “focus extensively” on deficits next year? And what will that entail for the domestic agenda? I certainly hope that no one is thinking of making a 1937-style haul back on recovery efforts. Judging by the public statements of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, they aren’t, but if the administration is quaking over the political ramifications of the deficit now, how long until they head in that direction?
This week, we’ve already seen a group of senators threaten to force the U.S. to default on its debt (by refusing to increase the federal debt ceiling), if they don’t get a bi-partisan commission that will be tasked with cutting Social Security and Medicare. This deficit-mania comes despite a stubbornly weak labor market, and at the same time that Congress is insisting that more must be done in terms of job creation.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wringing waste from the system, and there are surely some ineffective or duplicative programs in the various federal agencies that can afford to go by the wayside. And if that’s what the administration means, more power to them.
But as Paul Krugman wrote, “conventional wisdom in Washington seems to have congealed around the view that budget deficits preclude any further fiscal stimulus — a view that’s all wrong on the economics, but that doesn’t seem to matter.” It’d be a shame to see the administration turn this particular bit of conventional wisdom into policy that doesn’t provide more support to the job market, and at worst, could choke off economic recovery.