Obama’s Spending Priorities

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More details are emerging:

The budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins in October, will identify the winners and losers behind Mr. Obama’s proposal for a three-year freeze of a portion of the budget. Many programs at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department are in line for increases, along with the Census Bureau.

Among the losers would be some public works projects of the Army Corps of Engineers, two historic preservation programs and NASA’s mission to return to the Moon, which would be ended as the administration seeks to reorient the space program to use private companies for launchings. Mr. Obama is recycling some proposals from last year, including one to end redundant payments for land restoration at abandoned coal mines; Western lawmakers blocked it in 2009. Mr. Obama will propose a total of $20 billion in such savings for the coming fiscal year.

Based on what we’ve heard so far, Obama’s sense of priorities within the budget appears sensible to me. The OMB team seems to be doing a good job of identifying which programs are worth spending money on and which have lower value. But this raises the question of how the specifics will relate to the overall freeze. If it turns out that “western lawmakers” once again block cuts in “reduntant payments for land restoration at abandoned coal mines” is the White House going to pare back its planned increases in NIH programs? That, it seems to me, would be very bad policy. The case for an overall freeze is weak in macroeconomic terms. Cutting bad programs is fine, but given the current economic situation funding good ones is more important.