Editorial: Budget cuts at Congress’ disposal

Boy, oh boy, he sure sounded like the stern avatar of fiscal responsibility.

“We can no longer afford to spend as if deficits do not matter and waste is not our problem,” President Obama said.

“We can no longer afford to leave the hard choices for the next budget, the next administration — or the next generation.”

Man, bureaucrats by the thousands, laboring away in programs they know are wasteful or counterproductive, must be cowering in terror, right?

Not exactly.

Having kept his green-eyeshade bulldogs up at night going through the federal budget “line by line” to find programs that have outlived their usefulness or never had much, knowing that to fund his ambitious plans for Afghanistan, health care, green jobs and a revivified financial system he would have to find savings from old outworn programs, President Obama last Thursday came up with proposed savings of — sound the trumpets — $17 billion.

That’s right. In a projected FY 2010 budget of $3.4 (or $3.6 depending on who’s counting) trillion, with a projected deficit of between $1.2 trillion and $1.6 trillion, the president managed to propose savings amounting to less than half of 1 percent of the budget or about 1.4 percent of the lower projected deficit.

That’s about half of the proposed cuts former President Bush — hardly a model of fiscal rectitude — proposed after the first draft of his proposed budget last year. The ironic thing is there’s a fair amount of overlap between the cuts Bush proposed and those Obama has put forward.

That’s because when it comes to budget matters, the president proposes but Congress disposes. There’s no federal program so utterly useless as to lack patrons in Congress, and last year Congress laughed off most of President Bush’s proposed spending cuts. Washington insiders are saying President Obama’s proposals will suffer the same fate.

No wonder there’s such a mutual fascination between Washington and Hollywood. Both are devoted to selling make-believe to the general public.