A Reasonable Man

OMB Director Jack Lew details some of the budget cuts the Obama administration is willing to endorse in the name of fiscal probity:

Since they were instituted, community service block grants have helped to support community action organizations in cities and towns across the country. These are grassroots groups working in poor communities, dedicated to empowering those living there and helping them with some of life’s basic necessities. These are the kinds of programs that President Obama worked with when he was a community organizer, so this cut is not easy for him.

Yet for the past 30 years, these grants have been allocated using a formula that does not consider how good a job the recipients are doing. The president is proposing to cut financing for this grant program in half, saving $350 million, and to reform the remaining half into a competitive grant program, so that funds are spent to give communities the most effective help.

Another difficult cut is a reduction of $125 million, or about a quarter of current financing, to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which supports environmental cleanup and protection. And a third is a reduction in the Community Development Block Grant program. These flexible grants help cities and counties across the nation finance projects in areas like housing, sewers and streets, and economic development in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.

I was feeling cranky after I left the meeting with David Axelrod I was invited to recently. But you can see here the political strategy the White House is trying to implement as they head into a budget showdown with House Republicans. Basically the way this works is that the conservative movement is going to demand something crazy. And the White House is going to need to get a crucial block of House Republicans from marginal districts to start blinking and putting pressure on the GOP leadership to cave. The Obama administration is betting that with proposals like this it can own the “center” space, prevent Democrats with marginal seats from feeling like they need to distance themselves from him, and set up a winning position in this debate. And, heck, I think it just might work. Whatever else you might say about him, Obama has consistently managed to make himself more popular than all his leading opponents. And by shifting the conversation away from hazy notions of “cuts” to specific numerical cuts in specific programs, the White House is daring its opponents to get specific about what unpopular reductions they’re interested in.

That said, Obama’s re-election chances will depend a lot on the state of the economy in 2012 and very little on what people think about his FY 2011 budget proposal.