Government Spending

Discretionary Spending Is a Dish Best Served Frozen?

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Cato's Chris Edwards puts President Obama's proposed spending freeze in context with a handy chart and an explanation of how little fiscal restraint it's likely to require:

It's cold out there for non-defense discretionary spending.

Edwards explains:

The first thing to note is that the portion of the budget to be frozen grew 60 percent between 2000 and 2008, during a period of low inflation. And since this portion of spending excludes defense, homeland security, and veterans affairs, it has nothing to do with the reponse to 9/11 or various foreign wars.

Then comes 2009 and the massive "stimulus" bill, which pushed up spending on this part of the budget to $699 billion. Finally, the figure shows the freeze at $447 billion, which is 71 percent higher than the level of authorized spending in 2000.

Here's the important point: a very large part of the 2009 spending spike of $699 billion will be sloshing forward into 2010 and later years. (As illustrated by my fancy arrow in the chart). The new CBO budget estimates (Table A-1) show that only 18 percent of authorized stimulus funding will be spent in 2009, with the rest sloshing forward.

Obama is "freezing" the budget only because he already has a large amount of cash floating around from the stimulus bill that he can spend on all his favorite big government projects in 2010 and beyond.

As a political gambit, it may help win over a few voters, and it'll certainly play well with Washington's cadre of oh-so-serious fiscal centrists—the Washington Post's famously budget conscious editorial board is treating this as a tasty appetizer and asking for more—but it's not a move that's likely to limit the White House agenda in any significant way. Indeed, liberal outrage at the proposal has already forced the White House's economic team to respond with some delightfully message-muddling rhetorical coddling for the unhappy progressive base—effectively saying that although it's technically a spending freeze, it's not really a spending freeze, and in fact, if you look at it in the right light and shake it around a little bit, it's actually kind of a hike, or something! 

It's sad, really: What has our great nation come to when the White House doesn't even have the courage to stand behind its cynical political backpedaling? I don't know about you, but I could sure use a reminder of what it's like for an influential politician to say "freeze" and genuinely mean it.

Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie both got to spending-freeze skepticism before I did. I was there third!

NEXT: Cover Your Ears

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  1. “Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie both got to spending-freeze skepticism before I did. I was there third!” What? Is this the Lifetime movie equivalent to “The Pregnancy Pact”?

    1. Stop bashing Lifetime!

  2. That Barack Obama is sure a forward thinker! He has made the concept of the “slush fund” thoroughly respectable.

  3. What will we be eating in the year one of the freeze?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKROeWxZHfg

    1. I thought it would be haggis. Obama is going to lift the ban any day now.

  4. Ah, some clips from the movie that nearly ended the Batman franchise, starring the governor doing everything he can to end California’s existence.

    1. Showing any clip from that trainwreck ought to be considered a violation of the Geneva Convention. Surely none of us in this forum has done anything so bad as to warrant exposure… have we?

  5. Bronze medal for Suderman.

    1. “I was there third!” A medal won’t do. He needs a strong antibiotic and a STD lecture.

  6. Obama just does not want to be overshadowed by China renaming Qian Kunzhu “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” to promote tourism. This just weeks after banning Avatar the movie from most theaters in China.

    So he is going for dumber.

    1. Ooooooh, does the mountain float in the air?

      1. Nope. Must be the great injustice of the capitalists hoarding all of the Unobtanium.

  7. Actually, the statement by Biden’s man about a freeze not being a freeze is not as absurd as it seems. You can keep total spending constant while increasing spending on some things and decreasing it on others.

    Of course, the fact that he has immediate specific examples of stuff he wants to increase spending on, while the decrease is said to be applied to “programs benefitting special interests”.

  8. Indeed, liberal outrage at the proposal has already forced the White House’s economic team to respond with some delightfully message-muddling rhetorical coddling for the unhappy progressive base?effectively saying that although it’s technically a spending freeze, it’s not really a spending freeze, and in fact, if you look at it in the right light and shake it around a little bit, it’s actually kind of a hike, or something!

    Shocked! Shocked!

  9. Here’s a pretty simple idea: immediately cancel the rest of the bullcrap “stimulus” package, which in reality was mostly ACORN-style “spreading the wealth around” at election time to try and buy votes. That will save at least half a trillion dollars immediately.

  10. I’m not following the math here. If a lot of the stimulus will be spent this year and next, why is the “frozen” spending not higher than $447B, only $27B more than the pre-stimulus level.

    1. Because the chart doesn’t display actual spending in a given year. It displays budget authority, basically the year that Congress approves the money to be spent. That’s the point of the chart.

      For example, the $8B high speed rail money hasn’t been spent at all yet, but it was in the stimulus, so it’s part of last year’s budget authority, even though it will be spent this year.

  11. DUde, thats some pretty cool stuff now isnt it.

    Jess
    http://www.online-privacy.int.tc

    1. You can tell anonymity bot is burned out from his job. He’s just not trying anymore.

  12. The WGN Morning News reported Obama’s plan as such: “President Obama is expected to announce that he will freeze discretionary spending in 2010. However, discretionary spending only makes up one half of one percent of the federal budget.” Maybe more mainstream news outlets are picking up on this fact?

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