Obama quick to spend like predecessor

Freedom New Mexico

President Barack Obama’s budget proposal, including the much-touted so-called freeze on nondefense domestic discretionary spending — to begin next year, brings to mind one of the confessions St. Augustine made in his landmark book of confessions. As he was wrestling with the implications of becoming a fully believing Christian, Augustine said that he sometimes prayed the following:

Lord, grant me chastity — but not just yet.

Actually, the evidence from the 10-year projections — budgets traditionally include long-term forecasts even though they almost always underestimate spending growth — suggests that President Obama is not interested in fiscal chastity at all — not this year, not next year, not for years to come. The federal deficit is projected to approach $1.6 trillion this year, decline to “only” $1.3 trillion in 2011, and stay at around $1 trillion or slightly less each year for the rest of the decade. The total addition to the national debt over the next 10 years is projected to be $8.5 trillion.

The president made much in his State of the Union address of a proposal to freeze nondefense domestic discretionary spending — but not this year, because we’re just starting to pull out of the recession. In truth, however, the projected savings from the freeze — perhaps $15 billion next year and a bit more over the following two years — are a drop in the bucket compared with the ongoing deficits. And since Congress has the final word on spending levels, it’s unlikely the freeze would be instituted, anyway.

And as Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a columnist for Bloomberg News, said, “Having a weak recovery is a lame excuse for not having a long-term plan to address deficits.” For example, Hassett said that a plan to gradually reduce over the next 50 years the projected growth in Social Security benefits could be implemented in such a way as to have no impact on this year’s budget but a significant impact on projected future deficits.

To be sure, the president did endorse a bill, defeated in the Senate, to establish a deficit-reduction commission empowered — rather like the military base-closing commissions begun a couple of decades ago — to come back with a long-term plan that Congress could approve or defeat, but would not be able to change. The commission he plans to establish by executive order would have no such teeth — it will only be able to make recommendations and, perhaps, inspire public pressure.

In his budget message the president still stressed the spending increases of the previous administration. It is true that the Bush administration increased spending dramatically and irresponsibly. But the Obama administration so far is like the Bush administration on steroids when it comes to spending.