Today’s big pre-SOTU story is that the President will propose a five-year freeze on non-security discretionary spending, which comes fairly close to Republican demands on the budget. Essentially, since the country is operating under a continuing resolution, the budget is currently frozen at 2010 levels. The Republicans want to scale it back to 2008 levels. This would hold the line at 2010.
But this isn’t entirely new. The President called LAST YEAR for a three-year spending freeze on the same area of the budget. Because there was no budget resolution, for the most part the Congress adhered to that. This would extend that call by three more years.
The President will also encourage Congress to accept the $78 billion, five-year reduction to the Pentagon budget, which is a pre-emptive strike against bigger defense cuts, and also puts some of the burden of those cuts on soldiers who will have new co-pays and burdens for their health care. And of course, escalating wars doesn’t factor into those budget cuts; in fact, it cancels them out. (For context, PIRG found that you could get $93 billion in cuts just by ending the purchase of obsolete parts for the Air Force (PDF).)
How this spending freeze would interface with expected calls for “new investment” in education, research and development and infrastructure, which comprise some of the biggest items in the non-security discretionary spending part of the budget, is about as clear as mud. Maybe the plan is to shift some money from one side to the other. The President may have succeeded in changing the conversation for a few days with the call for new investment, but this gambit pretty much ends that. The “new investment,” nonspecific as it is, will be thrown by the wayside; the spending levels will represent the starting point for negotiations.
If President Barack Obama was hoping to win over the Republican Party by proposing a five-year freeze in non-security discretionary spending during his State of the Union address, he’s unlikely to be satisfied.
“It’s not enough,” Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) told HuffPost after the news of Obama’s freeze proposal broke. “We’ve surged spending in the last three years. So that’s not sufficient.”
Let’s be clear, this opening gambit is a $400 billion decrease from the baseline over five years; the Republican Study Committee outlined $2.5 trillion in cuts over ten. Let’s be charitable and call it $1.25 trillion over the first 5 years. Suddenly, we’re arguing over $160 billion a year, $800 billion total, rather than $2.5 trillion.
Hell of an opening bid, Mr. President. And that’s the most “demand side” we’re going to get. As Mitch McConnell said today, if the President can act like a Republican, they can negotiate with him. He’s working on it!
Do people still want to predict massive economic growth this year?